By Bruce Ferguson
Should the U.S. export natural gas?
The answer depends on what you think about hydrofracking.
Historically, the U.S. has had to supplement domestic natural gas production with imports, but now the extensive use of hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale could allow America to become a gas exporter. A recent article in Barron's suggested that the U.S. could become the world's largest exporter of gas by 2017.
But let's be clear. When we're talking about natural gas exports, we're talking about shale gas.
That is, we're talking about fracking. So let's reframe the question: Should the U.S. be fracked to supply foreign nations with gas?
The objections to fracking are legion, and each one needs to be weighed in the balance if the U.S. is to develop a prudent gas export policy.
We know, for example, that fracking even a single shale gas well requires millions of gallons of fracking fluid, and produces huge quantities of toxic wastewater.
All of this fluid has to be transported, usually by truck, and that means hundreds of diesel trucks going to and from each well pad. The exhaust from these trucks combines with the methane and volatile organic compounds released into the atmosphere during the extraction process to produce ozone.
It's no exaggeration to say that, because of fracking, some rural communities have higher ozone levels than Los Angeles on a bad day.
Developing a giant shale formation like the Marcellus will entail injecting hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic fluid underground, and no one can say with any certainty how this might impact our drinking water supplies in the years and decades to come.
We do know that a recent geochemical study conducted in northeastern Pennsylvania found naturally occurring pathways between underground shale formations and shallow drinking water aquifers. The fact that the industry insists that fracking be exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act is not reassuring.
And of course there are other issues to consider, including the recent peer-reviewed studies that indicate that shale gas is, from a greenhouse gas perspective, worse than oil or coal. Health care professionals say we don't know what effect fracking will have on human health, while economists worry that disruptive extraction activity might damage local economies by crowding out long-term sustainable businesses like agriculture and tourism.
Right now the U.S. doesn't have the infrastructure it needs to become a major gas exporter. Canada and Mexico don't need our gas, and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals that will be necessary to tap lucrative markets in Europe and Asia have not yet been built.
Constructing the eleven huge LNG export terminals now on the drawing boards will cost more than $100 billion.
Tens of billions more will be needed to build pipelines to bring the gas to the coastal terminals. Should the U.S. pour this kind of money into fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when scientists warn that we are already suffering the adverse impacts of climate change?
The Obama administration has held up licensing export terminals until after the election. This winter, when licensing is again on the table, scientists, health care professionals and concerned citizens who oppose fracking may find themselves allied with manufacturers who realize that competition with foreign markets will drive up costs for both American industry and consumers.
Finally consider this: If the U.S. does export shale gas, it will be supplying countries like France that have already banned fracking because it's too dangerous.
Is the U.S. on its way to becoming an energy extraction colony for other nations?
Are we the new Third World?
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.