The Fracked Gas Power Plant That Could Put New York City Underwater
The Town of Wawayanda is in the fertile, black dirt region of New York State, not far from Pennsylvania. Like many communities in neighboring Pennsylvania, the rural way of life in this area of Orange County is now under threat from America's shale gas boom.
New York has banned fracking, but not the mass build out of fracked gas infrastructure and that's put many New York communities on the fossil fuel chopping block.
Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) has proposed to build a 650-megawatt fracked gas power plant in Wawayanda. The residents of Orange County already know firsthand that living near fracked gas infrastructure poses many of the same health risks as living next to fracking wells.
In 2013, a fracked gas compressor station was built in nearby Minisink, New York to move gas along the Millennium Pipeline. Because of emissions from the compressor station children living nearby began suffering from nosebleeds, rashes, headaches and dizziness.
A study done by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project in November 2015 found that the air pollution around Minisink was worse than that of a big city. Families with homes close to the compress station have walked away from them.
CPV's fracked gas power plant would release 43 times the emissions as the compressor station. And it's just one of some 300 fracked gas power plants that are being proposed all over the country. If these plants are built you can say goodbye to New York City.
Researchers are finding that the web of fracked gas infrastructure that crosses all over the country has a big emissions problem. And those emission aren't just bad for local air, they're catastrophic for the climate.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is 86 -105 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than C02 in the first 20 years it's in the atmosphere. Cornell Earth systems scientist Robert Howarth said since the planet responds so quickly to methane, if we want to slow global warming, we must immediately and drastically reduce methane emissions.
But what Howarth and other researchers studying emissions are finding are scary rates of leakage from extraction to delivery. There's continual leakage at the wellhead, there's leakage from the storage and processing facilities, purposeful venting and also accidental leaks. There's leakage in the pipeline systems, distribution systems and storage systems.
If just 3 percent of the fracked gas being mined and supplied to the power plant leaks throughout its life cycle, natural gas is worse than coal for global warming. In the Uinta Basin, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found 6 to 12 percent leakage rates for natural gas production. And before the Aliso Canyon disaster, they found leakage in the Los Angeles Basin was 17 percent. Harvard found that the U.S. shale boom over all has increased global methane emissions by more than 30 percent.
The U.S. has a serious methane problem that will go from bad to dire pretty fast if we build 300 fracked gas power plants.
Our climate will get fracked unless we do.
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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>
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