The Conservative Party emerged victorious in Thursday's UK elections with a majority of 78 seats in the House of Commons, its largest majority since 1987, as BBC News reported.
With one seat left to count, the Conservatives now have 364 seats, the Labour Party has 203, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has 48, the Liberal Democrats have 11, the Welsh Plaid Cymru has four and the Green Party has one.
Conservative Leader and defending Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had focused his campaign on a promise to "get Brexit done," hailed his party's victory as a "new dawn" in British politics. But what does the Conservative win mean for the planet?
Previous Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May made the UK one of the first major economies to commit to a 2050 carbon neutrality deadline before leaving office in June, The Guardian reported. And the Conservative election manifesto repeated that pledge.
"And you the people of this country voted to be carbon neutral in this election," Johnson said in his victory speech, according to a Press Association transcript published by Al Jazeera. "You voted to be carbon neutral by 2050 and we will do it."
However, analysis by environmental groups found that the Conservative Party actually had one of the least ambitious manifestos of the competing parties when it came to environmental issues.
Greenpeace UK gave the Conservative Party a rank of seven on a 20 point scale. The Green Party topped the list with 19, and the main opposition Labour Party came in second with 16. The Conservatives also scored low on the Friends of the Earth 45-point scale, earning only 5.5 points to Labour's 33 and the Green Party's 31.
"Despite the Conservative Party manifesto offering decent policies on plastics and agricultural subsidies and restatement of the moratorium on fracking, in sector after sector its commitments were invariably weaker than the other parties, entirely absent or just plain bad," Friends of the Earth head of political affairs Dave Timms said. "Their manifesto consistently failed to step up to address the climate and nature emergencies, which are hurting communities right now and will deliver catastrophe in the future. We were concerned that they failed to restate commitments to some existing positive government policies."
Where did the Conservative Party fall short? For one thing, the other parties set much more ambitious timelines for tackling the climate crisis.
The Green Party and the Labour Party both promised versions of what they called a Green New Deal. The Green Party aimed to invest in green jobs, homes and transport with a goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2030. Labour, meanwhile, promised a "Green Industrial Revolution" to green transport, energy, industry, agriculture and buildings while creating one million jobs and restoring nature. It promised to "achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030." Plaid Cymru also set a 2030 deadline for net zero emissions and a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas vehicles, according to Greenpeace.
The Liberal Democrats promised a 10-year intensive program aimed at reducing emissions, with a goal of cutting emissions from the most challenging sectors by 2045 at the latest, according to The Guardian. The SNP promised a 75 percent emissions reduction by 2035, net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and net zero emissions overall by 2045.
Only the Brexit Party, which had set no net-zero emissions target and made no promise to restore nature, had a less ambitious manifesto, according to Greenpeace. The Brexit Party did well in the European parliamentary elections this summer, but won no seats on Thursday, according to BBC News.
In addition to its less ambitious timeline, Greenpeace also noted that the Conservative Party continued to support the fossil fuel and aviation industries and had committed to building new roads. A Greenpeace investigation reported by The Independent Thursday further found that the Conservative campaign had received more than £1 million in donations from fossil fuel investors.
"The motives behind these donations are unknown, but there has to be suspicion about whether donors' interests may shape the future government's response to the climate crisis we're in," Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK's director of policy, told The Independent. "Voters deserve to know who is propping up these election campaigns and, if elected, how they may get preferential treatment with the governing party who has taken their dirty money."
Johnson also failed to participate in a party leaders' debate on the climate crisis hosted by the UK's Channel 4 and was replaced by a melting ice sculpture.
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Big Data, Big Oil: Unveiling the 'Dark Forces' Behind Trump’s 2020 Reelection Campaign With Josh Fox
By Reynard Loki
Josh Fox, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Gasland, the documentary that started the global anti-fracking movement, is bringing a new message to audiences across the country with The Truth Has Changed, a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump's reelection.
Commissioned by legendary documentary producer Sheila Nevins for HBO as a solo performance to inspire grassroots action, The Truth Has Changed traces Fox's personal arc from 9/11 to present-day America to tell a story that is both a warning and a prescription to save our democracy — and the planet.
I talked to Fox about this new project and the dark forces working to spread lies and misinformation to influence the 2020 presidential election.
Reynard Loki: Your films have been about the environment, and the fight to save it from climate change, fracking, pipelines, the activists at Standing Rock. How has your previous work led you to your new live performance-based project, The Truth Has Changed?
Josh Fox: That's a great question. It started with an intriguing proposal from HBO. They said, "We know you do theater. We know you've been on the road for 10 years bringing your films to people. And you in a live setting is a part of the show, right? It's not just that people come out to see your films. They come to see you, so how about you do a one-man show that brings that reality to the people?" And that was an assignment from Sheila Nevins when she was at HBO. And I said, "Absolutely; I'll try this." And then I started to really think about it, and at first, it was kind of a reporter's notebook, but to be honest, what I really zeroed in on was the fact that for the last 10 years, the oil and gas industry has made a huge effort to discredit my work and discredit all of the people who spoke about how bad fracking is. And this is very similar to the campaigns of climate denial, which hinge on widespread misinformation and then spreading disinformation and propaganda, smear and lies.
RL: Can you describe the effort to discredit your work?
JF: Big names in conservative smear campaigns were following me all around the country. [Steve] Bannon. Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart. Filmmaker Phelim McAleer, whose pro-fracking documentary "FrackNation" attempted to refute my own documentary Gasland. Conservative activist James O'Keefe. GOP media strategist Fred Davis. These high-profile right-wing charlatans clearly did opposition research on me. They collected all this data on me and figured out how to attack me personally. They tried to get inside my psyche to unnerve me. And they did it in a very specific and deliberate kind of way.
RL: What exactly did they do?
JF: They created hate emails specifically designed for my personality. There were tweets threats; there were death threats on Twitter. They highlighted my life in the theater, my hairline, the fact that my family's Jewish; they found out that I had quit smoking several years ago, but they found a picture of me with a cigarette in my hand online from the past, and they ran that as a pro-fracking TV ad in Ohio saying, "This environmentalist is a smoker." They followed me around the country for years. They booked shadow tours of our films. They tapped into ethnic and regional stereotyping. And then they tried to paint me as some kind of rich, intellectual, New York City liberal, which is not the case. They flung all of these stereotypes at me. They gathered all this information about me — my background, my ethnicity, my age, my race, where I live, where I went to school, how much money I made, what I had done in my previous life before the films.
RL: Are you saying that those techniques used against you are similar to the current disinformation campaigns we're seeing today? Could you have been a kind of beta test for this data-based approach to spread propaganda?
JF: Absolutely. Basically, what Steve Bannon did to me from 2010 to 2015, he did to the entire American electorate in 2016. In developing The Truth Has Changed, I made two startling realizations. One was that the people who ran those campaigns against me had a very strong hand in influencing the 2016 election: Steve Bannon, who was running Breitbart when all these attacks were happening against me, took over the Trump campaign and his team profiled the electorate in the exact same way. This connection led me down two trails in my own life. The first looked back to my own personal history as a grandson of Holocaust survivors. I have an intimate knowledge of how white supremacy works, how the Nazi playbook operates, and feel a sense of intergenerational trauma. The second trail looks to the present time and the future, to how the same techniques that were used in a smear campaign against an individual through Google, Facebook, data collection, [and] addressable ad technology, which enables advertisers to selectively segment audiences to serve different ads, are used to influence a massive amount of people. And instead of just following one person around and knowing one person's data — mine — now they know the personal data of tens of millions of people, and they use that information to create highly personalized ads according to different personality types.
RL: How important was big data to Trump's victory in 2016?
JF: During the 2016 election, CNN called political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica "Donald Trump's mind readers" and his "secret weapon." They gathered up to 5,000 data points on more than 220 million Americans. And they used that data to tailor ads specifically toward people's personality types to influence their thinking. The same folks are currently rallying white supremacists all across the world and are making a bid to get Trump reelected in 2020. Their digital campaign created 5.9 million different ad variations in 2016, versus just 66,000 ads created by Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was so key to Trump's victory that Trump's digital campaign manager Brad Parscale is now his campaign manager.
RL: So in "The Truth Is Changed," you're connecting big oil and white supremacy to big data — and how these forces are working together to influence the 2020 election.
JF: Yes, we're talking about Bannon and the white supremacy movement. We're talking about Trump's former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, before that, was the head of ExxonMobil and the oil and gas industry, which has brazenly taken over the government. We're talking about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and their collection of the personal data of billions of people around the globe. Together, they have created a situation in which big data, big oil and white supremacists powerfully influence the way the United States government operates. And certainly, in the 2020 election cycle, we're going to have a very hard time figuring out what is true. I think we're going to see the largest smear, misinformation and disinformation campaigns in the history of any election. So in The Truth Has Changed I'm taking a deep dive not only into the smear techniques of big oil and how they work from a new technology perspective, from psychographics to addressable ad technology, but going into how that is now how we run elections in America, and then we've entered the age of misinformation because right now it's very hard for people to tell what's true.
RL: Do disinformation campaigns rely on gullibility?
JF: No, I wouldn't say that at all, not with the state of our education system right now. This entire project starts with a high school girl in the front row of one of my films putting her hand up and asking me, "Josh, how do we know what's true?" She said, "You say all these things about how fracking is bad, and climate change is real, but then we can look online, and we see that people are saying that the opposite of this is true. So how do we know?" She's not gullible. She's trying, but can't figure out the difference between a persuasive argument that is true, and a persuasive argument that is false.
Friends of mine send me fake things all the time because it appeals to them. I've sent fake things out accidentally because they appeal for my sensibility. And it's not only that these ads say things like, vote for Donald Trump, he's a nice guy, or he's a tough guy, or he's a strong guy, or he's a compassionate guy. It's often taking people who are upset with the Democratic Party and funneling them toward, for example, Jill Stein, when they might otherwise vote for Hillary Clinton. And a lot of people will get really mad at me and say, "No, no, no, Jill Stein represents what I believe in." But if you're in Pennsylvania and you're voting against the Democratic platform, which Bill McKibben, Cornel West and I helped write and which has real progress in it, and that vote then gets siphoned away to put Donald Trump in office, then you've been manipulated. These disinformation campaigns often take the most deep-seated things that are really important to you and turn that into their own political gain. People are assuming that there is some kind of standard for truth because there always used to be. But last year, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress and declared that political candidates no longer had to abide by any kind of standards of truth, they abandoned a century's worth of journalistic integrity. And they are arguably the largest news publisher in the world.
RL: In the face of all of this, what can we do to suss out truth from lies?
JF: We always have to check for accuracy. The pursuit of the truth is not something that can be done easily, and it never has been. However, we are now seeing the standard-bearers of journalism consistently undermined, and they themselves also make mistakes and who are also subject to manipulation. The New York Times publishes things directly from State Department press releases constantly; it's maddening. Today, people need to work harder to get to the truth. But beyond that, we must control and own our own data, because if someone knows you really well, it's really easy for them to manipulate you.
Take, for example, the 1988 presidential election that pitted incumbent GOP Vice President George H.W. Bush against Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis. [Those who are old enough] probably remember the Willie Horton ad, a racist ad put out by the Republican campaign against Michael Dukakis, and it obviously caused a huge wave of controversy and anger because it was racist. But it only caused that level of controversy because it was visible to everyone. Now you can run 1,000 Willie Horton ads. You can run 10,000 Willie Horton ads. You can run a Willie Horton ad supposedly put out there by a fake Black Lives Matter page, and no one would ever know. So if you put out a racist ad and only racists can see it, it causes absolutely no controversy, but it's deeply effective in rallying people. And a lot of the times people don't even know that they're racist. So you might have things happening to folks on an unconscious level, on a deep psychological level that they're not aware of. But the internet knows. If you've got 5,000 data points on somebody, you know them on a very intimate level, you know their psychology, you know what they're afraid of, you know their sexual orientation, you know their medical history, their age, their race. So your campaign to win them over becomes very effective.
RL: So, how do we get to a point where owning your personal data is a human right? Is this ever going to happen?
JF: There have to be laws, and those laws have to be in line with the current technology. We're currently working with the New York State Senate to create a new slate of laws. There's a privacy law in California that's just recently been passed, but there's some dispute as to how companies are supposed to comply. And so there have to be laws about data privacy that we can campaign for, but the Democrat campaigns must also address this issue. The New York Times recently reported that the Democrats have no strategy to stop this wave of misinformation. But they need to understand that how they handle misinformation is going to be the difference between tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of votes in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Florida. So the Democrats have to get really serious about this issue — and they have to address it really fast. I've appealed to the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other campaigns, saying that this is really serious because it's about to happen — and it's going to happen worse than it's ever happened before.
RL: Should we be allowed to sell our data?
JF: That is a fascinating question. I don't know if I have a real clear answer. I mean, it's being collected by your action, right? Everything you buy, everywhere you go, everything you search for, all things you know and all the things you don't know, all that data goes in, and the algorithm learns what you personally crave and what you personally lack and what you really want in life, so that's a digital map of your dreams, your insecurities, your life. And it is sort of like you're on the road, right? It's your digital biography. Do you own your movements in the world? It's a very interesting question. I imagine there are some benefits. So, for example, if you're on Instagram and you're a man, and you're constantly getting ads for feminine hygiene products, they're an annoyance; they're not useful to you. So perhaps you want to get ads that are more tailored to you. And of course, the way the news works these days is the news gives you back things that you agree with and that you want to see and that you want to read because there's so much information out there. This does backfire upon you because, at that point, you end up being manipulated by the fact that now interests that are foreign to you and nefarious to you and harmful to you can start to target you.
RL: How has the truth crisis impacted the climate crisis?
JF: They go hand-in-hand. We get our terrestrial proof from the Earth. The planet is empirical data. Climate change deniers are saying that the empirical data that's coming from the Earth is not true. Where do they say that? Principally, they say that online, which is its own "planet," the cybersphere. It's a planet that doesn't exist on Earth. It exists by its own rules and has its own set of priorities. And if you leave terrestrial Earth, yeah, you can make it wherever you want. So when you're in that cybersphere, it reigns true whenever you feel like on that particular day, for whomever is willing to pay for it.
The tobacco industry originally started doing this. They started to say things like, "Smoking is good for you." And they created all this bogus science and fake reports that said, "These cigarettes are fine." And what they were trying to do is sow confusion in people and stave off regulation. The exact same technique has been used by the oil industry.
RL: Why is the truth crisis such an urgent matter?
JF: It's so important because the further we get away from the terrestrial planet as our source of empirical reality, the closer we come to being evicted from the planet like climate change, and that is those same forces, the oil industry and the conservatives that are forcing us to an unlivable world. This is an emergency because of the climate. It's also an emergency because we're seeing right now the reemergence of white supremacists and Nazis on this planet, and they are taking over. Right-wing authoritarian governments are sweeping elections across the earth, and they're doing so primarily by using Facebook and WhatsApp and by lying directly to the public. Sixty-eight thousand fake Twitter accounts helped push the recent Bolivian coup. In the UK, Boris Johnson's recent election, 88 percent of the conservative parties' advertisements were misleading. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro was elected with the help of fake news messages sent via WhatsApp, a messaging app used by 120 million Brazilians, saying that his opponent was a criminal. Obviously, there's Donald Trump, who had 5.9 million ad variations using Cambridge Analytica. There's also Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Narendra Modi in India. There are dozens of examples. So you're seeing right-wing, authoritarian, racist regimes cropping up all over the world. And in 2019, Steve Bannon raised $100 million for his white supremacist project in Europe.
So what is really dangerous about all of this is the two-headed monster of the rise of white supremacy, Nazism and racism on the one hand and on the other hand, climate change denial and the fossil fuel industry. And these are linked, and these are linked in the persona and in many actions by the Trump administration. In 2017, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil turned Secretary of State, created a contract between the State Department and Cambridge Analytica, and their mission was to influence elections all across the world. Big data and big oil running American diplomacy. And that continues to this day.
RL: Why should people see The Truth Has Changed?
JF: Because this is a chance to rally for the truth. It's the chance to rally for a new America. This project concerns itself with the oil industry, the world at war post-9/11, climate change. We've seen the United States get closer to war with Iran. We see Australia on fire, and authorities there must battle misinformation campaigns contending that the fires were caused by arson and not climate change. We know that we're watching the extinction of countless species in real time. We're in an emergency.
At every single performance of The Truth Has Changed there will be activists in the room who are campaigning on these issues, and that's what we need to do. We need to set the record straight. We need to say climate change is real. We need to say fracking is bad, we need to see Donald Trump as a racist and say that is not who we are as a nation. So we have to take our country back, and this is our effort to try to fight back against this wave of lies, smear and misinformation.
The Truth Has Changed opens at New York's Public Theater this January and will tour across the United States. For more information, visit internationalwow.com/tthc.php.
Reynard Loki is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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The COVID-19 Delta variant has left businesses and schools across the country backpedaling from their goals for more integrated, in-person participation.
In many areas, virtual learning and remote work are becoming the norm once again, and often, this comes with a significant increase in residential energy consumption. For those concerned about increased electric bills and a greater carbon footprint, however, researchers say solar energy could prove effective in offsetting the costs of working and learning from home.
Turning Back to Virtual Learning
Although most school districts across the country opened back up with the intention of holding 100% in-person classes, spreading of the Delta variant has already forced many classrooms into stints of remote learning.
As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, "a cluster of three or more potentially linked cases at one school over 14 days could represent an outbreak and could lead to having a group of students or even a class quarantine at home."
As of August 24, at least 80 school districts have been forced to halt in-person instruction in some capacity due to viral outbreaks.
At the end of the last academic year, an elementary school teacher in Marin County, California, who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 infected at least 12 students while experiencing mild symptoms, according to a recent CDC report. The majority of her class was ineligible for vaccination, due to their age.
Cases like this illuminate the obstacles that schools are facing in their efforts to protect students. Eight states have passed laws banning mask mandates in public schools, and because students younger than 12 years of age are ineligible for vaccination, classrooms can quickly become hotspots. This forces students to quarantine and learn remotely, which raises energy consumption within homes.
A Bright Future for Remote Work
Some of the most successful companies in the world have maintained and refined opportunities for remote work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these corporations are moving toward permanent implantation of remote and hybrid working models, especially in industries like software, finance and media.
Studies suggest that these models could prove wildly successful, even in a post-pandemic era, not only because they expose employees to fewer health risks, but also because they promote higher productivity and greater mental wellness.
According to LinkedIn's 2020 Workforce Confidence Index, about half of the country's working professionals believe that their industry can operate successfully in a remote setting.
Minimizing Energy Costs and Environmental Impacts of Virtual Meetings
Increased use of home appliances, electronics, heating and air conditioning all contribute to higher electric bills and a greater carbon footprint for those working and learning from home.
At the onset of the pandemic, residential energy consumption increased by up to 10% and energy bills for remote workers increased by up to $50 per month, according to a study by Dr. Steve Cicala, a research fellow for the National Bureau of Economic Research and associate professor at Tufts University.
"The relative energy intensity of heating and cooling the entire homes of employees rather than a single office suggests that the future of working from home is not as green as one might think based on reduced commuting alone," Cicala writes in the study.
Drawing from solar panels could actually be the cleanest, most energy-efficient and cost-effective strategy to offset the energy costs of working from home. But is it worth installing solar panels on your home to offset increased energy costs due to COVID-19 quarantining?
"If people think they might be working from home and using more electricity long term, this would be a good time to think about prospective efficiency improvements," Cicala says in an interview with Tufts, "LEDs instead of old bulbs and plasma TVs, rooftop or community solar to spin the meter back a bit, or perhaps updating some old power-hungry appliances around the house."
Although market barriers and soft costs limit the expansion of the solar industry, the average cost of solar panels has dropped by more than 70% in the last decade. Federal solar tax credits can further reduce the cost of installation by 26%, and some states also offer their own incentives.
Beyond slashing costs, powering homes with solar energy can support the electric grid through net metering. This credits residences that produce more energy than they consume and allows them to export excess energy to the grid, providing surrounding consumers with clean energy.
While the barriers for entry are higher in certain states, solar panels are becoming more universally accessible. As remote work and schooling become the "new normal" once again, solar energy could be vital in preventing further financial and environmental crises related to the pandemic.
Carbon dioxide emissions reached a new record high in 2019, according to the latest figures from the Global Carbon Project, raising concerns about the ability of large emitters to effectively address the climate crisis.
The new data was unveiled during a press conference at the COP25 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid Wednesday. It shows that carbon dioxide emissions rose more slowly between 2018 and 2019 than they did between the previous two years, but humans are still expected to release 40.57 billion tons (36.8 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere this year, the Associated Press reported. That's the equivalent of 2.57 million pounds of carbon dioxide, or two Airbus A380s, every second.
Yet another year, global CO2 emissions to increase in 2019. https://t.co/lC89Di23XP Our Global Carbon Budget 2019… https://t.co/OgL4W8b0fr— Pep Canadell (@Pep Canadell)1575423355.0
"Every year that emissions go up, even if it's just a small amount, makes the task of bringing them back down that much harder," Glen Peters, research director at the Cicero Center for International Climate Research in Norway and study contributor, told The New York Times.
Emissions are expected to rise 0.6 percent in 2019, according to the data published in Environmental Research Letters, Nature Climate Change and Earth System Science Data. That is significantly less than the 1.5 percent increase in 2017 and the 2.1 percent increase in 2018. However, a UN study released last month found that emissions need to decline 7.6 percent every year for the next decade in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
While the 2019 figures are an estimate based on six to ten months of data, Peters told the Associated Press that past estimates have proved more or less accurate.
The 2019 projections show coal emissions dropping by almost one percent, but oil emissions rising 0.9 percent and emissions from natural gas, which has driven more than 50 percent of emissions growth since 2012, rising by 2.6 percent. The rise in fracking has made gas the No. 1 electricity source in the U.S., according to The New York Times.
We project global coal, oil, & gas emissions for 2019 * Natural gas up 2.6% [+1.3% to +3.9%], driving >50% of growt… https://t.co/cnreKjnup8— Glen Peters (@Glen Peters)1575440818.0
Of the top four carbon dioxide emitters, the EU and the U.S. saw emissions fall by 1.7 percent, while emissions rose by 1.8 percent in India and 2.6 percent in China. Emissions in the latter two countries rose more slowly than expected due to slow economic growth. India especially was a surprise, since emissions there rose by eight percent in 2018, according to The New York Times. The economic slowdown in India and China helped account for the overall decline in coal use.
"Through most of 2019 it was looking as if coal use would grow globally, but weaker than expected economic performance in China and India, and a record hydropower year in India - caused by a strong monsoon - quickly changed the prospects for growth in coal use," Robbie Andrew, another Cicero researcher who was involved in the study, told BBC News.
The top six emitters in 2018 covered 67% of global emissions * China 28% * United States 15% * EU28 9% * India 7% *… https://t.co/YTWTl0Ns3h— Glen Peters (@Glen Peters)1575440825.0
The decline in U.S. emissions comes despite the pro-fossil fuel policies of President Donald Trump, but does not cancel out the country's 2018 emissions increase of 2.8 percent, The New York Times pointed out.
Overall, U.S. emissions have declined 9.7 percent between 2000 and 2018, the Associated Press reported, but 11 countries have achieved steeper declines this century. For example, the UK cut emissions by one third during the same time period.
"The numbers show that the U.S. is not leading in terms of overall emissions reductions and this proves that we could be doing better," University of Michigan environment dean Jonathan Overpeck told the Associated Press. "This highlights that more, not less, U.S. international leadership is urgently needed. I'm still hopeful we can turn this all around... If we don't, the planet is cooked."
However, the U.S. isn't the only country that needs to improve. The overall data shows that climate policies matter, and no country's policies so far are ambitious enough.
"I do think global and national policies are making a difference, particularly by driving the rapid growth in renewables, and we'd be worse off without them," Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University who was involved with the research, told The New York Times. "But at the same time, it's clear those policies haven't been enough to stop the growth in fossil fuels."
The Global Carbon Budget 2019 just out. Another extraordinary effort of the global carbon cycle research community.… https://t.co/K2hTEk6dR6— GlobalCarbonProject (@GlobalCarbonProject)1575419489.0
After revising its three-year U.S. power forecast, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has predicted major declines for fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside strong growth in renewables by 2022, according to a review of the data by the SUN DAY Campaign, a pro-renewables research and education nonprofit.
"FERC's latest three-year projections continue to underscore the dramatic changes taking place in the nation's electrical generating mix," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Renewable energy sources are rapidly displacing uneconomic and environmentally dangerous fossil fuels and nuclear power — even faster than FERC had anticipated just a half-year ago."
While the independent federal agency forecasts robust wind and solar development, it also predicts a large increase in natural gas capacity, which is consistent with the current public emphasis of the newly rebranded "natural gas and oil industry." The projected gains in natural gas power, however, aren't enough to offset the sizeable drops in coal and oil, resulting in an overall decrease in burning fossil fuels for power in the U.S.
As we have noted on DeSmog, the oil and gas industry is publicly selling natural gas as a cleaner fossil fuel and a climate solution. Renewables represent a threat to its growing market share, both economically and based on climate concerns.
According to FERC, net new gas-powered generating capacity (which accounts for power plants expected to close) is predicted to increase by 19,757 megawatts (MW) in the next three years. Wind capacity is projected to grow by 27,659 MW and utility-scale solar by 17,857 MW.
Battery cost forecast $87/kWh by 2025. (Will be earlier in my view, current cost at $187/kWh.) “Be ready to cancel… https://t.co/LMICHmc6Aw— Sohail Hasnie (@Sohail Hasnie)1572528626.0
International Energy Agency Also Updates Renewables Forecast
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has not been known for optimistic forecasts of renewables growth. In the past, IEA has been criticized by groups like the UK-based Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit for continuing to predict an oil and gas-dominated future, despite promising signs coming from wind and solar.
As DeSmogUK reported in April 2018, Dr. Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the nonprofit Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit, warned that the IEA's lagging forecasts on renewables growth created "a growing risk that commercial decisions are not based on the facts on the ground."
At this point, the cost of wind and solar combined with battery storage is cheaper than coal power, much cheaper than new nuclear power, and in many places also competitive with natural gas. In some areas, electric utilities are already moving from coal to renewables and skipping over the so-called "bridge fuel" of natural gas. The argument for a natural gas "bridge" to affordable renewable energy has been crumbling, and the economics of future power generation don't look good for this fossil fuel.
Even the skeptics at the IEA are starting to catch up. In recent reports, IEA now says renewables are expected to grow 50 percent in the next five years and offshore wind power is capable of producing more electricity than the world can use.
Offshore technical wind potential vs. electricity demand. IEA Offshore Wind Outlook 2019
In commenting on IEA's offshore wind report, Forbes noted, "The report carries particular weight not just for the enormous claims being made of wind power, but also because the IEA was long seen as skeptical about the potential of renewable energy."
The International Energy Agency, @IEA, an oil watchdog, just admitted wind power set to be "game-changer" for energ… https://t.co/vH85t2ekme— Assaad Razzouk (@Assaad Razzouk)1571984819.0
It’s The Economics, Stupid
Meanwhile, Murray Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S. (whose CEO is a big fan of asking the Trump administration for coal bailouts), recently declared bankruptcy. Forbes published a column explaining how that came about. The answer can be summed up in three words: "free market forces."
Another recent report highlighted those free market forces as it forecast potential losses for Europe's coal industry to the tune of $7.3 billion this year.
In a sign of how things are changing, Forbes interviews Robert Threlkeld, global manager for renewable energy at … General Motors.
"It is a business transformation," said Threlkeld. "Customers decide when they will use clean energy resources — not just wind and solar but also demand response and energy efficiency. It is a comprehensive solution."
Quick reminder: General Motors is currently siding with the Trump administration in the battle with California over fuel efficiency standards. This is not a company with a track record of being "green" on principle — it's all about the money.
Which is why natural gas and nuclear are fated to suffer the same fate as coal in the power generation sector.
While the IEA and FERC have taken their time catching up to the economic reality of renewables, the free market has already caught on.
Warren Buffett is widely hailed as one of the greatest investors of all time, and he invests to make money, not save the planet. Buffett recently loaned $10 billion for a major fracked oil company merger and has profited off of oil trains with his company BNSF for the past decade.
However, Buffett is also in the power generation business and owns utility company PacifiCorp, which in October announced long-term plans to shut down coal generation in Western states and replace it with renewables — not natural gas.
Renewables & storage undercut natural gas prices, increase stranded assets: RMI https://t.co/TJAHBS2bCb, check out… https://t.co/wT9tRQMuCo— PlantATree.urbieta.com (@PlantATree.urbieta.com)1572193203.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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By Sabrina Kessler
Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.
The case is not about the damage to the planet the energy giant has caused. Instead, ExxonMobil is being forced to answer allegations that it played down the consequences of climate change to consumers and investors for decades.
What looked like a clear victory for the Attorney General's Office, however, now threatens to turn into a damp squib. The prosecution quickly admitted it had failed to prove that the company deliberately deceived shareholders and a few days ago, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Zweig dropped one of the main allegations — investor fraud.
The state of New York had wanted to prove that the Texas-based oil giant knowingly misled shareholders. ExxonMobil is said to have built a "long-standing fraudulent system" to cover up the true impact of climate change. All this to push up the stock price. Similar allegations were once made against the tobacco industry, which publicly denied the risk of cancer, even though it knew better. What followed were penalties in the billions.
ExxonMobil did not respond to a request from DW. The Group's website contains a statement from last month in which the company promised it would be exonerated in court: "The allegations of the New York Attorney General are false," it said.
The student protest is one of several held outside the New York Supreme Court during the trial.
Investors had been informed through regular announcements about how the company responds with climate-related risks, the company added. "The New York attorney general's case is misleading and deliberately misrepresents a process we use to ensure company investments take into account the impact of current and potential climate-related regulations."
However, this remaining lawsuit is not just against any company, but one built by the man once considered to be the richest American of all time. ExxonMobil's roots go back to John D. Rockefeller, the U.S. oil magnate who built one of the country's first oil refineries in 1863. His company, the Standard Oil Company, grew so powerful that within a few decades the U.S. Supreme Court ordered it to be broken up into more than 30 companies, two of which grew into today's ExxonMobil.
This company, in turn, rebuilt itself into one of the largest in the world: the oil multinational recorded sales of $279 billion (€253 billion) last year alone. By way of comparison, Apple achieved $266 billion in 2018.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously had a decade-long tenure as Exxon Mobil's chair and CEO.
Impact Known for Years
Success does, however, have its negatives. ExxonMobil is one of the largest global climate sinners. Not only are forests being cleared and waters and soils polluted to unearth more than 4 million barrels a day of black gold, the oil giant also contributes almost 2% to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to calculations from the UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project. Over the last 50 years, it has created 42 billion tons of CO2.
The oil companies know only too well how much they endanger the climate. Exxon Mobil, for example, is said to have known since the 1970s about the impact the oil business was having on the planet. However, these findings never reached the outside world. "Exxon Mobil is a climate criminal," alleges 350.org, a nonprofit environmental organization that supports students in their protests.
Despite this, the state of New York has not yet been able to prove ExxonMobil's culpability. Not a single shareholder who testified in court claimed to have been deceived. The prosecution now has to prove that the oil giant was wrong to assure its investors that it was adequately preparing its own business for a decarbonized future. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
ExxonMobil's biggest challenge, however, is a different one. A glance at Wall Street data reveals that the energy sector is increasingly losing its standing. Today, the industry represents less than 5% of the total market value of all companies indexed in the S&P 500. Five years ago, it was still over 15%.
Oil Price Remains Low
ExxonMobil is struggling with its greed for profits. Since its all-time high five years ago, the stock price has collapsed by a third. It has long been clear that coal, gas and oil can no longer earn as much as they used to. Coal, for example, is increasingly being replaced by natural gas, which is much cheaper. Oil is also being fractured in such quantities that the market is literally flooded. Not even the military attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields in September caused a lasting rise in the price of oil. It has lost 20% since January.
Exxon Mobil has the 14th-largest oil and gas reserves and is the largest refiner in the world.
For analysts, one thing is clear: ExxonMobil needs new ways to revive itself. "The Stone Age didn't end because the stones ran out," analyst Stewart Glickman of CFRA Research told DW. In other words, it will not be the lack of oil that will put a spoke in the wheel for the oil giants, but the lack of profitability. Competitors like Royal Dutch Shell have long been experimenting with renewable energies in order to do justice to the zeitgeist. ExxonMobil is years behind.
The company's future strategy is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. This includes the production of shale oil (fracking) in the West as well as natural gas plants in Papua New Guinea, oil wells in South American Guyana and the development of new fields in Brazil and Mozambique.
The Group intends to invest $230 billion in these projects in the coming years. However, only a fraction of this is for environmentally friendly technologies. The oil giant has committed just $10 billion to these types of projects — in the last twenty years.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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A string of small earthquakes were reported the town of Blackpool just days after fracking operations restarted in England after a seven year hiatus, raising concerns that the controversial drilling process could eventually trigger bigger temblors.
Most of the earthquakes were at negative levels, meaning they were unnoticeable by residents. However, a 0.3-magnitude earthquake recorded on Friday hit amber on the government's monitoring scale, meaning Cuadrilla has to "proceed at caution," Friends of the Earth Campaigner Rose Dickinson told Metro.co.uk.
British Geological Survey
Incidentally, fracking was halted at the Blackpool site in 2011 because of earthquakes. The largest had a magnitude of 2.3 and was felt locally.
"Since hydraulic fracturing operations started at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, we have detected some small earthquakes close to the area of operations," BGS said, as quoted by the Guardian. "This is not unexpected since hydraulic fracturing is generally accompanied by micro-seismicity. The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has strict controls in place to ensure that operators manage the risk of induced seismicity."
The government has a traffic-light system that immediately halts operations if seismic activity exceeds 0.5 on the Richter scale.
"All of the earthquakes detected at Preston New Road so far are below the threshold required to cease hydraulic fracturing," BGS added.
Cuadrilla has shrugged off the minor seismic activity. It retweeted a post from seismologist Stephen Hicks, who commented that Friday's 0.3-magnitude earthquake could "set a new world record for one of the world's smallest earthquakes that has been reported on by multiple media outlets."
"The micro seismic events which have been recorded through the detailed monitoring Cuadrilla and the BGS are carrying out are successfully detecting events even at these very low levels," the company said, per the Guardian. "This is not an 'amber' incident under the traffic light system operated by the OGA as we were not pumping fracturing fluid as part of our hydraulic fracturing operations at the time and the seismic events remain under 0.5 local magnitude."
However, opponents said that the earthquakes are proof that fracking poses too many risks.
"Recent research by Stanford University shows that these tiny tremors can be indicators of bigger quakes to follow—like canaries in a coal-mine," David Smythe, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Glasgow, told Metro.co.uk.
"The problem for Cuadrilla is that if it carries on regardless, bigger earthquakes may well be triggered," Smythe continued. "To quote Cole Porter, 'There may be trouble ahead.' Cuadrilla's only safe option is to cease fracking."
With drilling underway, documents obtained by Greenpeace's Unearthed show that ministers are looking to weaken earthquake standards at fracking sites.
In a letter sent to Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake in July, UK energy minister Claire Perry said the traffic-light system is "set at an explicitly cautious level but, as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls."
Last week: @UE reveals ministers are looking at relaxing fracking earthquake rules This week: Cuadrilla's Lancashir… https://t.co/swLRQ6HeSD— Unearthed (@Unearthed)1540039002.0
Earlier this month, a high court judge allowed drilling to restart in England despite years of anti-fracking protests and last-ditch legal bids.
Environmentalists warn that increased gas extraction not only jeopardizes the country's emissions reduction targets, it also skirts warnings from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that says we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.
British energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry approved the first well in July, the day before parliament headed to summer recess, The Independent reported.
The second approval came six days into another parliamentary recess, for party conference season, and fracking opponents have criticized the timing of the approvals.
"They know it's totally unpopular; they know some of their own MPs are against it, so they sneak this through in an underhand manner," Frack Free Lancashire media team member Pam Foster told The Independent.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas took to Twitter Wednesday to oppose the decision.
"Claire Perry has just granted permission for another fracking well at Preston New Road just two months after it trampled over local democracy and approved the first. And they've done it during recess so MPs can't hold them to account," she tweeted, according to The Independent.
No fracking has taken place in the UK in seven years after fracking by Cuadrilla near Blackpool caused earthquakes in 2011, Reuters reported.
The government, however, eager to increase energy independence, has upped regulations and hopes to try again.
It has introduced a system that will stop work on fracking wells if activity of 0.5 or greater on the Richter scale is detected and has stepped up groundwater checks.
"Shale gas has the potential to be a new domestic energy source, further enhancing our energy security and helping us with our continued transition to a lower-carbon economy," Perry said in an emailed statement reported by Reuters.
Northern England contains enough shale for 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the British Geological Survey found, according to Reuters. Just 10 percent of that could satisfy England's energy needs for 40 years.
But fracking opponents worry about the practice's impact on groundwater and contribution to climate change.
"The evidence of the damaging environmental, climate and health implications of fracking continues to mount, yet this government is determined to push it through, and the people of Lancashire are going to bear the brunt of it," Foster told The Independent.
Cuadrilla, on the other hand, pitched fracking as a climate win.
"The UK's need for a new and reliable source of natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, is underlined by a new report suggesting the UK is going to have to rely on more coal to generate electricity," it said in a statement posted on its website, The Independent reported.
The decision comes as the country prepares to celebrate Green Great Britain Week next month, which Perry will promote, Foster pointed out. "It's totally hypocritical," she said.
Fracking is still banned or on hold in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Government ministers published proposals Thursday that would speed the development of fracking in England, igniting opposition from environmental groups and local communities, The Independent reported.
The rule changes could open an area almost as large as Wales for immediate drilling.
"Communities and their local councils across the UK have said no in every way they can, but the government have turned a deaf ear to everyone who doesn't own a fossil fuel company," Rebecca Newsome of Greenpeace UK told The Independent.
The proposals would give planning authorities £1.6 million to speed up application processing time, create a new shale environmental regulator, allow companies to drill at test sites without prior permission and shift approval for new wells from the local to the national level by declaring fracking sites "nationally significant infrastructure," The Guardian reported.
Greenpeace further criticized the proposals in The Guardian, saying they would make "exploratory drilling as easy as building a garden wall or conservatory."
The Local Government Association also expressed concern that fracking decisions would be taken out of the hands of impacted communities.
"We are clear that it should be up to local communities to decide whether or not to host fracking operations in their areas," environment spokesperson, councilor Judith Blake told The Guardian.
The proposals came in a statement issued by the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Greg Clark and the housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire.
They argued that natural gas was an important part of the UK's emissions commitments under the Climate Change Act and that, due to a decline in offshore gas production in the North Sea, the UK had gone from exporting natural gas in 2013 to importing it from Norway and continental Europe.
"[W]e believe that it is right to utilize our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the UK, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated," the statement read.
They said that local decisions on shale exploration applications were "disappointingly slow."
According to The Independent, fracking opponents are concerned about the processes impact on water and links to increased seismic activity, as well as the need to shift away from fossil fuels all together.
Since a fracking ban was lifted in the UK in 2013, no new wells have been dug. Local governments rejected seven of eight shale drilling plans put forward in the first three months of 2018, The Guardian reported.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Rose Dickinson suggested that the government's plans went against the wishes of a majority of English citizens.
"If there was a referendum on fracking, it would be banished to the dustbin of history—and that's where these proposals belong," she told The Independent.
By Julia Conley
More than 200 national climate action groups on Thursday demanded that the Senate stop the passage of a bill that would serve to keep both Europe and the U.S. dependent on fossil fuels for decades to come — as millions around the world have marched in recent months to demand that governments rapidly shift away from carbon-emitting energy sources.
Passed by the House in March, the European Energy Security and Diversification Act of 2019 (S. 704) would provide billions of dollars in support for natural gas infrastructure projects, propping up fossil fuel industries and leading to fracking projects in the U.S. — undercutting the goals of climate campaigners who are demanding that all industrialized countries move toward renewable energy systems.
S. 704 would lock "both the United States and Europe into decades of continued fossil fuel dependence under the guise of national security," said Food and Water Watch, which organized the letter signed by groups including the Sunrise Movement, 350.org, Greenpeace, Oil Change U.S. and Friends of the Earth.
"At a time when we should be leading the global mission to rapidly quit fossil fuels, the notion of seeking new and deeper fossil fuel codependence between America and Europe is patently absurd," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said.
The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate, with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sponsoring the bill along with five bipartisan co-sponsors.
Murphy and other proponents say the bill would counter Russia's influence over energy production in Eastern Europe, but climate campaigners warned against using the fossil fuel sector, which releases millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, to push Russian President Vladimir Putin out of European energy markets is a short-sighted solution.
"This bill would undermine its own stated cause," said Collin Rees, senior campaigner at Oil Change U.S., in a statement. "Using fossil fuels for energy diplomacy increases global tensions and decreases our national security by pouring fuel on the fire of the climate crisis. Research clearly shows that existing fossil fuel development — including gas development — contains more carbon than the world can afford to burn."
While U.S. funding of fossil fuel projects in Europe may drive down Russian influence for now, the groups wrote, it would also exacerbate water scarcity, food shortages, and rising sea levels — all "geopolitical threats" in their own right.
Contrary to its name, they added, the European Energy Security and Diversification Act would do little to promote the safety and security of the U.S.
"The underlying logic of this legislation is deeply flawed," the letter reads. "Far from securing a more stable world, expanding exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe will lead to a more unstable world."
"Whatever the geopolitics, sending more deadly fossil fuels to Europe or any other part of the world is not the answer," said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Natural gas is fool's gold and will inevitably lead to further destabilization of any region that relies upon it."
The legislation is being pushed just as children and adults around the world are months into a global climate action campaign which has begun to make strides in the European Union and Great Britain. Eight European countries this week unveiled a proposal to spend a quarter of the EU's budget to combat climate change, fulfilling a commitment European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made to climate action leader Greta Thunberg earlier this year, while the U.K. Parliament declared a climate emergency last week under pressure from the international movement Extinction Rebellion.
"Climate science is clear: We must begin an aggressive global transition to clean, renewable energy now," said Hauter. "For the Senate to promote the opposite would be a clear abdication of moral duty to current and future generations in this country and every country."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
The "revolving door" between politicians and the fossil fuel industry has long been a concern in U.S. politics. Perhaps the most "blatant" case, as Kelle Louaillier pointed out in an Alternet article published by EcoWatch, was former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to the post after serving as the CEO of ExxonMobil. But it was a problem during the Obama administration, too. A report published in 2014 found that the turnover between public servants and fossil fuel industry workers facilitated four permits for liquified natural gas export facilities.
Now, a May 2018 report reveals that it's not a problem unique to this side of the pond.
The report, "Revolving Doors and the Fossil Fuel Industry: Time to Tackle Conflicts of Interest in Climate Policy-Making," was commissioned by the Green/European Free Alliance (EFA) group in the European Parliament. It found 88 cases of the revolving door phenomenon between fossil fuel companies and the public sector in the 13 European countries it studied.
According to the Executive Summary, the Green/EFA group undertook the report in response to claims that members of the European Union were not engaging seriously with other countries who wanted to draft a conflict of interests policy for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
"Perhaps the extent of the revolving door phenomenon across Europe is one of the reasons why the European Union and its Member States have been siding with other large polluting economies such as the USA and Canada in their attempts to block discussions on conflicts of interest, despite the fact that governments from across the globe have raised this as an issue at the UN level," the report's introduction said.
The report also expressed concern about the impact of fossil fuel lobbying on climate change policy overall.
"[I]t is hard to deny that the fossil fuel industry has been fiercely fighting effective climate policies over the past couple of decades. This industry is not only highly influential, but it is also an effective recruiter of former regulators in the energy sector, as shown in this report. And its political influence stands out," the report's introduction said.
The report found that the revolving door operated differently in different countries. In Spain, Austria and Denmark, the fossil fuel sector tended to hire high-level politicians. For example, in 2016 in Spain, 26 former ministers and senior party officials had jobs in private energy companies.
In other countries, like the UK, France, Belgium and Norway, companies tended to hire ex-policy advisers.
For example, in the UK, Patrick Erwin went from head of Energy Markets and Infrastructure Strategy and Programme Office at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to working for the biggest UK fracking company, INEOS shale.
Overall, 28 of the cases found by the report involved former ministers or secretaries of state, 28 involved high-placed civil servants or cabinet members, 22 involved members of parliament and 10 involved former members of government regulatory agencies.
The report said that it was beyond its scope to assess the impact of these revolving door instances on climate change policy overall and called for more research to be done.
It recommended European countries adopt a three-year "cooling off" period before any former public servant took a job in a sector they formerly regulated, publicly available "lobbying transparency registers" so that citizens could track potential influence in politics, "machine readable declarations of interest" published by new office holders detailing past careers and financial interests and "codes of conduct" that would prevent public servants from having any conflicts of interests while serving.
The report further backed the creation of a UNFCCC conflict-of-interest policy.
Former Coal Lobbyist Confirmed as No. 2 at EPA https://t.co/517hmbCOxk @NRDC @ClimateNexus @UCSUSA @350 @SierraClub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523633618.0
By Jocelyn Timperley
The UK could soon see its first use of hydraulic fracturing since 2011.
The controversial technique for extracting shale gas and oil, known as fracking, is set to be used by the end of this year at a site in Fylde, Lancashire, owned by UK company Cuadrilla. The firm said it hopes to start drilling within weeks.
But how close is the UK to shale gas production on a large scale? And what would the carbon impacts of this be?
Carbon Brief breaks down the key climate questions facing fracking in the UK.
Has There Been Any Fracking in the UK?
Yes, but not since two tremors near Blackpool were caused by Cuadrilla's fracking operations at its Preese Hall site in 2011.
Fracking involves pumping water mixed with chemicals at high pressure into a well, in order to fracture the surrounding rock and let oil or gas escape. It has been used in the oil industry since the mid-20th century.
However, the technique has only recently become widespread in onshore gas extraction, after advances in horizontal drilling allowed it to be applied to shale resources.
After the Blackpool tremors were identified in late 2011 as likely to have been caused by fracking, the UK's then-Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) put a moratorium on the practice, until it was better understood.
This was lifted a year later by then-energy secretary Ed Davey, who said exploratory fracking for shale gas could resume, subject to new controls to minimise seismic risks.
The UK already uses small quantities of shale gas and oil. Anglo-Swiss firm Ineos began importing US shale ethane in September last year, for use in the chemical industry. The Isle of Grain terminal on the Thames estuary took the UK's first delivery of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from US shale in early July.
US LNG exports are growing, following a string of approvals granted by the Obama administration. As a result, the U.S. is expected to become a net exporter of gas later this year. Increasing fossil fuel exports is part of U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to achieve what he calls "energy dominance."
Is Energy ‘Dominance’ the Right Goal for U.S. Policy? https://t.co/THAKlTSlYR @foeeurope @Green_Europe— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1499160009.0
When Will Fracking Next Take Place?
Cuadrilla expects to conduct exploratory fracking later this year at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire, the firm tells Carbon Brief.
Cuadrilla started work at the site in January, with the main drilling rig brought on site at the end of July. A spokeswoman for the firm tells Carbon Brief it plans to begin drilling horizontal wells into shale rock this month, with fracking beginning towards the end of the year.
However, the spokeswoman adds that Cuadrilla is unsure how long the process will take, since this is the first time horizontal wells have been drilled into the UK's shale rock. (The Preese Hall site only had a vertical well). It, therefore, cannot say exactly when the first fracking will take place, she said.
Cuadrilla had originally planned to begin fracking by the third quarter of this year. An ongoing protest at the site may be delaying development. Since January, anti-fracking protesters have maintained a continuous presence outside the site.
A drilling rig owned by the firm was vandalized last month at a facility near Chesterfield, where it was being stored, while Cuadrilla recently breached its planning permission by delivering a drilling rig overnight, apparently to evade the protestors.
If Cuadrilla does use fracking at the site, it would be the first time in the UK since the 2011 moratorium was put in place.
Cuadrilla also has an application for exploratory fracking at a second Lancashire site, Roseacre Wood. A public inquiry on the application is set to take place in April 2018, after a legal challenge by protesters failed to stop it going ahead.
It's worth emphasizing that Cuadrilla's projects are at the exploratory stage and are not yet producing shale gas. However, Cuadrilla's spokeswoman tells Carbon Brief that gas from its site will be "fueling Lancashire homes and businesses mid next year." This statement is based on Cuadrilla already having planning consent for an extended flow test, that would send small quantities of gas into the grid. Again, this would fall short of full-scale production.
Where Else Are Firms Planning to Use Fracking?
At least five other firms are planning to explore for shale gas in the UK. The map below shows where they hope to operate.
Note that fracking will not be used at all the sites shown on the map. Cuadrilla has said it will not need to carry out fracking at its oil exploration well at Balcombe, for example, since the rock is already naturally fractured. (Note that it has no plans to continue exploration at this site, having decided to focus on shale gas extraction in Lancashire).
The map includes Cuadrilla's Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood sites in Lancashire, the only ones for which the firm is currently seeking permission to carry out fracking.
Also of note are three sites near Sheffield, licenced to Ineos Shale, a UK-based subsidiary of Anglo-Swiss chemical giant Ineos, which aims to drill test wells to assess the suitability of the sites for extracting shale gas. In July, Ineos Shale won a broad pre-emptive injunction that will put protesters in contempt of court if they obstruct its shale operations.
Meanwhile, last month Third Energy submitted its final plans to start fracking for shale gas at its Kirby Misperton site in North Yorkshire. It was granted planning permission for the site in May 2016.
This plan still needs to undergo a technical assessment from the Environment Agency and requires approval from the government's Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). A spokesman for Third Energy tells Carbon Brief it hopes to begin fracking this year.
How Much Shale Gas Does the UK Have?
The British Geological Survey (BGS) said the UK has large amounts of shale hydrocarbons below its surface. However, the precise distribution is not yet well known and there remains significant uncertainty over how much is extractable.
The BGS has examined how much shale resources there are in several areas of the UK (see video below). Its central estimates for these are:
- More than 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas in the Bowland-Hodder shale in Lancashire;
- Around 4.4 billion barrels (bbl) of shale oil in the Weald basin in Sussex, but no significant gas resource;
- A further 1.1bbl of shale oil in part of the Wessex basin, near the Weald basin and;
- Some 80tcf of shale gas and 6bbl of shale oil in the Midland Valley of Scotland.
Two things are worth emphasising here. First, these are central, fairly rough estimates. The BGS's range for the Bowland-Hodder shale, for example, is a lower limit of 822tcf and upper limit of 2281tcf.
Most importantly, though, these are calculations of the total resources of shale. Only a fraction of this will be commercially extractable reserves, depending on the cost of UK operations and the international market price of gas.
The BGS said it is too early to know what proportion of UK shale resources are recoverable, although it said U.S. recovery factors are typically around 10 percent. Note that shale firms often argue they need to begin drilling before they can understand how much of the UK's shale gas is extractable.
The UK uses around 3tcf of gas each year. Assuming a 10 percent recovery rate and the BGS's central estimates, the UK has 138tcf or around 46 years worth of technically extractable shale gas.
It's worth noting a 2013 assessment by the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated a far lower technically recoverable resource in the UK of 26tcf, equivalent to nine years of current UK gas use.
A 2010 BGS estimate for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) put the "total recoverable reserve potential" in the UK even lower, at just 5.3tcf. This is less than two years of use.
Research by UK-based commercial oil and gas consultancy the Energy Contract Company (ECC), published in 2012, put technically recoverable shale gas far higher than this, at 40tcf, around 13 years worth.
Meanwhile, in 2013 the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) estimated a potentially recoverable resource of 64-459tcf in the Bowland shale formation alone. This figure is based on a range of recovery rates of 8-20 percent.
There are currently no official reserve estimates. As POST observed, UK reserves could be anywhere from "zero" to "substantial." It said: "To determine reliable estimates of shale gas reserves, flow rates must be analyzed for a number of shale gas wells over a couple of years."
Where Have Oil and Gas Licenses Been Granted?
There are 137 ongoing oil and gas licenses granted in UK government licensing rounds. The most recent, the 14th onshore licensing round, was launched in 2014, the first since 2008. This resulted in another 93 licenses being given to 22 successful applicants in 2015.
It's worth noting that these licenses do not give permission for operations, but rather grant exclusivity to licensees for exploration and extraction of any hydrocarbon, including for shale gas and oil within the area.
A spokesperson for the government's Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), told Carbon Brief:
"Subject to planning permission, relevant scrutiny and other permits, a proposal for shale exploration could progress on any extant onshore license, not just ones issued in the 13th or 14th rounds when the potential was first identified."
However, 63 of the 93 licenses granted in 2015 are in areas of potential shale exploration, according to investigative website Drill or Drop.
The video below shows the areas of shale gas and oil potential in the UK, based on maps from the OGA.
Which parts of the UK are open to fracking? Animation by Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief. Maps from the Oil and Gas Authority. Music: ketsa (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Sound effect: dshogan (CC BY-NC 3.0).
The maps show, in turn:
- Shale oil and gas study areas. Areas which have been surveyed by the British Geological Survey (BGS), a public sector research body, to see if they might contain extractable shale hydrocarbons. These are the main areas that could be used to produce shale oil or gas in the UK, according to the BGS. There are other minor areas that it has not yet studied.
- Shale prospective areas. Areas of shale rock that the BGS has identified as containing potentially extractable shale gas or oil.
- Current oil and gas licenses. All ongoing licenses in the UK for onshore oil and gas extraction, including conventional and non-conventional resources, such as shale. Licenses specifically related to shale resources were first awarded in 2008 and 2015, during the government's 13th and 14th licensing rounds.
- Oil and gas licenses awarded in 2015. Blocks awarded in the government's 14th licensing round, which launched in 2014. This was the most recent offer of onshore oil and gas licenses and only the second to explicitly include shale resources.
- Total area made available for license in 2014. All areas opened for bidding in the 14th licensing round. This covers approximately two fifths of the UK.
It's worth emphasizing that some of the licenses shown in the map above are for firms that intended to explore for conventional oil or gas, rather than shale gas. Edward Hough, a geologist from the BGS, told Carbon Brief:
"Operators may explore for shale gas and also a conventional source of hydrocarbon under the same license. In some parts of the country, shale targets may underlie conventional hydrocarbon reservoirs; as such, it's not possible to put a figure on how many licenses are for shale versus conventional oil and gas."
In addition, companies holding licenses still need to go through planning applications to gain consent for drilling, with only a couple of companies currently at this stage in just a few locations (see first map above).
Does the UK Need Shale Gas?
While it's important to consider how much of the UK's shale gas is recoverable, perhaps the more pertinent questions are how soon it could start to flow and if it is needed.
This is crucial to the question of whether shale gas production can be ready in time to replace the UK's rapidly falling coal use, the main way it could substantively cut UK greenhouse gas emissions (see below).
According to National Grid's most recent Future Energy Scenarios, UK gas production fell to 35 billion cubic metres (bcm; 1.2tcf) in 2016, a third of its level in 2000. This fall has been offset by a 20 percent fall in demand, with imports making up the difference. Similarly large falls in conventional UK gas production are expected over the next 30 years, National Grid said.
This fall in production could be offset by cutting demand further, by importing more gas, by producing domestic shale gas or a combination of all three.
To explore these options, National Grid lays out four scenarios, with shale gas included in the two with reduced climate ambition. It's worth highlighting that these scenarios are not forecasts of what is most likely to happen, but rather potential paths, which can also serve as warnings. Only one of the scenarios meets the UK's legally-binding carbon targets.
Its "consumer power" scenario has high gas demand and a focus on domestically produced supplies. Shale production begins around 2020, ramping up to 32bcm (1.1tcf) per year from 2031. Total annual gas use in 2050 sits at 70bcm (2.5 tcf), only 20 percent lower than in 2016.
Annual UK gas supply by source (billions of cubic meters, left axis) and the share of supplies that are imported (percent, right axis) in the Consumer Power scenario. UKCS is North Sea supplies from the UK continental shelf. Continent is mainly the Netherlands. LNG is liquefied natural gas delivered by ship. Green gas includes biogas derived from anaerobic digestion. Source: National Grid Future Energy Scenarios 2017.
In National Grid's legally compliant "two degrees" scenario, investment in renewable technologies, including "green gas," as well as efforts to cut demand, leave no incentive for shale gas development. Annual gas supply in 2050 falls to 40bcm (1.4tcf), some 50 percent below 2016 levels. This scenario leaves the UK more dependent on gas imports, however.
Annual UK gas supply by source (billions of cubic meters, left axis) and the share of supplies that are imported (percent, right axis) in the Consumer Power scenario. UKCS is North Sea supplies from the UK continental shelf. Continent is mainly the Netherlands. LNG is liquefied natural gas delivered by ship. Green gas includes biogas derived from anaerobic digestion. Source: National Grid Future Energy Scenarios 2017.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has also assessed the future for gas within UK carbon targets. As Carbon Brief reported at the time, it said that gas use should fall by around 50 percent in 2050, rising to a 80 percent fall if carbon capture and storage is not available.
It's worth noting that the CCC has also said UK heating must be virtually zero-carbon by 2050, with options to reach this goal including district heating schemes, low-carbon hydrogen in the gas grid (see below) and electric heat pumps.
What Does Shale Gas Mean for Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
A 2013 report co-authored by the late Prof David MacKay, then chief scientist to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), found UK shale gas would have much lower emissions than coal, slightly lower emissions than imported liquified natural gas (LNG) and higher emissions than conventional gas.
Like the CCC, this report emphasised the need to ensure UK shale gas production did not lead to an overall increase in international supply and demand for gas.
The authors warned that the "production of shale gas could increase global cumulative GHG emissions if the fossil fuels displaced by shale gas are used elsewhere."
They concluded: "The view of the authors is that without global climate policies (of the sort already advocated by the UK) new fossil fuel exploitation is likely to lead to an increase in cumulative carbon emissions and the risk of climate change."
Advocates have argued that shale gas could help to cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of coal. This might be possible as long as fugitive methane emissions remain below a certain level, often calculated at around 3 percent.
In practice, however, the UK is unlikely to be able to replace coal with domestic shale gas, given coal is being phased out of the power sector by 2025 and is expected to fall to very low levels well before then.
This leaves the small potential emissions advantage of domestic shale gas over imported LNG.
The CCC says that onshore oil and gas extraction, including fracking, is incompatible with the UK's climate targets unless it can meet tough standards on emissions. It laid out three key tests for a UK shale gas industry. These are:
- Strict limits on emissions. This means limiting methane leakage during development, production and well decommissioning, as well as prohibiting production that would entail significant CO2 emissions from changes in land use. The CCC said current regulations fall short of these requirements.
- Gas consumption in line with carbon budgets. This means cutting gas consumption at least in half by 2050 and using shale gas to replace, rather than add to, current gas imports. If carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not available, UK gas consumption needs to drop to around 80% below today's levels by 2050. A separate report, released last year by the industry-funded Task Force on Shale Gas, concluded that CCS will be "essential" if fracking develops at scale.
- Shale industry emissions offset by more cuts elsewhere. This means the unavoidable emissions from a UK shale gas industry would have to be matched by cuts in other areas of the economy. Offsetting these emissions through other sectors would be possible, but potentially difficult, the CCC said.
The CCC reiterated this advice in its latest annual progress report, published in June. It also said the government should implement new policies to more tightly regulate and monitor shale gas wells, in order to ensure rapid action to address methane leaks.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency said in 2011 that the significant global development of shale gas could put the world on a trajectory towards a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5C, far above the Paris agreement limit of "well below 2C."
Could Shale Gas be Low Carbon?
Some shale gas proponents have argued it could be used to produce low-carbon hydrogen via a steam reformation process, combined with CCS. The hydrogen would replace methane in the gas grid and be used for heating or fuel cells.
Depending on how tightly emissions are controlled during shale gas production, however, this might only cut emissions by 59 percent compared to fossil gas. The figure also depends on what share of CO2 is captured, with 100 percent technically possible, but likely to be more costly.
The CCC said that CCS must be under active development in the UK before a decision to proceed with hydrogen is made. The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee last year warned gas without CCS could put climate targets at risk.
In 2015, the government abruptly cancelled a £1bn competition to build plants demonstrating CCS at commercial scale. Last year, then-energy minister Andrea Leadsom called a CCS strategy "unnecessary."
What Does the Government Say on Shale?
The Conservative's 2017 election manifesto set out ambitious plans to develop the shale gas industry, in a lengthy section that spoke glowingly of its prospects.
This said that shale gas could help reduce carbon emissions "because [it] is cleaner than coal" (see above for more on UK shale gas and coal). The manifesto also said it "could play a crucial role in rebalancing our economy."
The weakened Conservative administration has abandoned a string of manifesto policies since losing its majority at the general election. Last month, energy minister Richard Harrington reiterated the government's stance on shale gas, but did not mention emissions, saying:
"Shale gas could have great potential to be a domestic energy resource that makes us less reliant on imports and opens up a wealth of job opportunities. The economic impact of shale, both locally and nationally, will depend on whether shale development is technically and commercially viable and on the level of production. To determine the potential of the industry and how development will proceed, we need exploration to go ahead."
The government says shale gas operations will only take place in a manner which is safe for the environment and local communities.
The government's continued support for fracking comes despite low and falling public support. The latest BEIS public attitude tracker, published last month, showed support for fracking falling to 16 percent, its lowest level since the surveys began five years ago.
Opposition now sits at 33 percent, with 48 percent of people saying they neither support nor oppose fracking.
Support for fracking drops to lowest recorded level in BEIS survey (16%) https://t.co/0YWtNE18o6 https://t.co/SKVCLElVpH— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1501754297.0
The Labour Party has pledged to ban fracking if it wins power, arguing shale gas will "lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels." The Liberal Democrats and Greens also oppose fracking.
What About the Devolved Governments?
While successive UK governments have been decidedly pro-shale for a number of years, the devolved administrations are taking a more cautious approach.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon's government imposed a moratorium on fracking in January 2015 and commissioned a series of independent studies into the pros and cons of shale gas.
The Scottish government launched a public consultation in January 2017, which had attracted 60,000 responses by the time it closed in May. The government response, including a decision on whether to allow fracking, is due later this year.
In June, Scottish Labour's environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish announced plans for a member's bill that would outlaw fracking, confirming the party's continued opposition.
Wales has also put a fracking ban in place, while Northern Ireland adopted a "no fracking" policy in 2015. Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland finalised its permanent ban on onshore fracking in June of this year.
Will Fracking Be Economically Viable?
One major and often overlooked question for shale gas is whether it will be commercially viable in the UK.
Domestically produced shale gas will have to compete with other sources, including imports from Russia and Qatar, as well as potentially cheaper shale gas from the U.S.
The UK has a far denser population, meaning fracking will take place closer to communities, for instance, alongside already strong public opposition. It also has potentially less suitable geology and stronger environmental legislation.
"[People] pay little attention to whether the country's geology is suitable for shale oil and gas production. The implication is that because fracking works in the US, it must also work here. In fact, the UK's geological history suggests this is probably wrong…
"The inherent geological complexity of the [UK's] sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated. As a result, the opportunity has been overhyped and reserve estimates remain unknown."
Even while pushing for shale development, government ministers have cautioned that its economic impact will depend on whether it is technically and commercially viable.
Fracking firms themselves are also cautious about promising too much. Cuadrilla's chief executive Francis Egan said in January he hoped it would become clear within a year whether it was economically viable to extract shale gas from the Preston New Road site.
Jocelyn Timperley holds an undergraduate masters in environmental chemistry from the University of Edinburgh and a science journalism MA from City University London. She previously worked at BusinessGreen covering low carbon policy and the green economy. Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
By Andy Rowell
The beginning of the end of the age of oil moved a step closer Friday, with Norway's government recommending that its $1 trillion wealth fund should divest from upstream oil and gas producers.
The news that the world's largest wealth fund, known as the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which is highly influential just by its huge financial size, will divest from companies that explore and produce oil, "has sent shockwaves through the energy sector," according to the Financial Times.
Whilst the move is significant in driving the fossil fuel disinvestment momentum, the Financial Times notes there are caveats: "the world's largest sovereign wealth fund has given a reprieve to the global oil majors" such as Shell and BP and "the fund appears to be allowed to still invest in oil and gas companies if they have activities in renewable energy."
The move is primarily concerned about protecting the Norwegian economy from any future plunge in the oil price rather than climate concerns, although these are mentioned by the government.
In its report, published Friday, it stated that "Climate risk is an important financial risk factor for the GPFG, and may over time have an impact on several of the companies in which the Fund is invested, including those in the energy sector."
Norway's Finance Minister Siv Jensen said: "The objective is to reduce the vulnerability of our common wealth to a permanent oil price decline. Hence, it is more accurate to sell companies which explore and produce oil and gas, rather than selling a broadly diversified energy sector."
But the move will have an impact: The strategy will affect 1.2 percent of its holdings, worth about 66bn Norwegian krone or $7.5 billion and its investments in some 150 oil companies. Although the likes of BP and Shell won't be affected, some American fracking companies will be, such as Chesapeake Energy. The full list is here.
The reaction from some in the environmental community was positive. Bill McKibben from 350 tweeted:
Huge huge huge win--Norwegian govt (an oil state) is recommending that the world's largest sovereign wealth fund Fu… https://t.co/ljR5ff7V0z— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1552043162.0
Our own Alex Doukas, Stop Funding Fossils Program director at Oil Change International, remarked:
"This planned move by Norway's government is a clear signal of where the global financial community is headed: directly away from fossil fuels. The companies listed for exclusion are focused exclusively on drilling more oil and gas out of the ground when climate safety requires the exact opposite — a rapid and just managed decline of all fossil fuel production. Ultimately, all oil and gas companies continuing to expand production should be shunned by the global financial community as bad actors and risky investments."
"Today's decision by the oil fund is even more impactful than when they divested from coal in 2015," Mark Campanale, CEO of Carbon Tracker, told CNN "It shows that while the fund was initially built on revenue from oil and gas, the ministry of finance understands that the future belongs to those who transition away from fossil fuels."
Mark Gilbert from Bloomberg wrote in the Washington Post:
"Friday's government decision to partially back the divestment strategy marks a big victory in the battle against climate change ... The decision should resonate throughout the debate about the need to address climate change. Norway's move highlights the risk that energy producing countries will be left with so-called stranded assets — petrochemical reserves that the world no longer needs as countries embrace cleaner energy sources."
Others were slightly more cautious: Simon Evans from Carbon Brief tweeted:
Norway's $1tn wealth fund to divest from oil & gas firms… …but only *pure exploration and production*, not likes o… https://t.co/TgwAaVAdys— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1552046485.0
Charlie Kronick, from Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian: "This partial divestment from oil and gas is welcome, but not enough to mitigate Norway's exposure to both global oil and gas prices and the wider financial ramifications of climate change."
Kronick continued: "However, it does send a clear signal that companies betting on the expansion of their oil and gas businesses present an unacceptable risk, not only to the climate but also to investors."
"While BP and Shell are excluded from the current divestment proposal, they must now recognize that if they continue to spend billions chasing new fossil fuels, they are doomed," said Kronick.
The move also comes some 18 months after 220 organizations from 55 countries signed what is known as The Lofoten Declaration, which called for a managed decline of the fossil fuel sector in line with the Paris UN climate goals.
The declaration demanded leadership in this fossil fuel phase-out from the countries that can afford it first, such as Norway. The declaration was named after the Lofoten Islands of Norway, which remains a battleground over oil and gas exploration, despite Friday's announcement.
"We applaud the Norwegian government for this plan but also encourage them to truly go all-in on climate responsibility by divesting from all fossil fuel companies, including integrated major oil and gas companies. We need to stop funding the fossil fuels that are causing the climate crisis, and this move by the Norway Government Pension Fund Global is an important — if limited — step in that direction," said OCI's Doukas.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.