Thursday, May 31, 2012

World CO2 Emissions Continue to Rise

The International Energy Agency, IEA, has released its preliminary 2011 estimates of world CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. World CO2 emissions rose by 1 billion metric tons, a 3.2 % increase over last year to reach 31.6 billion metric tons (34.83 billion tons). The IEA based in Paris was established in November 1974 in response to the global oil crisis created by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Its primary mandate was to promote energy security amongst its member countries. Over the years the mission has evolved to include holding global warming at 2°C by providing policy recommendations for ways to ensure reliable, clean energy for its 28 member countries (which includes the United States).

In 2011 the top four world generators of CO2 emission from fossil fuels were in descending order China, the United States, the European Union and India who edged out Russia to take the number four slot. China increased their emissions the most. China contributed almost three quarters of the global increase, with its emissions rising by 720 million metric tons, or 9.3% to 8.46 billion metric tons of CO2, primarily due to higher coal consumption. India’s emissions rose by 140 million metric tons or 8.7% to 1.75 billion metric tons. CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 million metric tons of CO2, or 1.7% to an estimated 5.32 billion metric tons. This reduction was primarily due to EPA regulations and increased availability of natural gas from shale deposits the cause the switching from coal to natural gas for electric power generation and helped by a mild winter in most of the United States, which reduced the demand for space heating. U.S. emissions have now fallen by 430 million metric tons or 7.7% since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. Unfortunately, this decrease has been made practically meaningless by the unrelenting growth in China and India.

Other highlights from the report were the European Union increased their CO2 emissions from fossil fuel by 69 million metric tons to approximately 3.56 billion metric tons. Japan’s CO2 emissions increased by 28 million metric tons, or 2.4% to approximately 1.19 billion metric tons, as a result of a substantial increase in the use of fossil fuels in power generation post-Fukushima tsunami when the three of the six Fukushima Daiichi nuclear  reactors  in operation at the time suffered melt downs. Now Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland have developed plans to phase out their nuclear reactors in the next decade in response to the damage to the nuclear reactors that occurred in the Japanese tsunami. So, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion is likely to increase in those countries. Russia and Canada remained fairly stable from the previous year, though Russia reports fewer data inputs than most developed countries so estimates are not as easily made.

The IEA tracks not only energy data and carbon dioxide releases but also investment in carbon control technologies and progress along various strategies to limit global temperature rise by controlling CO2 emissions from fossil fuel. IEA also makes progress reports on converting to clean energy and implementing carbon dioxide controls worldwide geared to preventing global temperatures from increasing more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the so called 450 Scenario which limits global warming by limiting concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of CO2. Unfortunately,  we’re pretty much out of time since the 450 Scenario calls for CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel to peak at 32.6 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions annually just 1 billion metric tons above current levels and the amount the world emissions increased this past year.

The IEA still believes that it is possible to prevent the earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius if “timely and significant government policy action is taken, and a range of clean energy technologies are developed and deployed globally.” The government action required is spending more money, much more money. The money is to be spent for the development and implementation of clean technologies to reduce Energy related CO2 emissions by over 5 billion metric tons before 2020 and continue to fall thereafter to less than half of the 2009 level while world population continues to grow. The IEA estimates that achieving these carbon reductions would cost $5 trillion by 2020.  The world does not appear to have the financial capacity or will for these actions on top of all the other needs of nations.

The worldwide level of CO2 emissions is higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts just five years ago, but fortunately temperatures have not (yet) risen as projected by the climate models.  The relationship of climate change to worldwide CO2 levels may not be the one previously assumed as research and modeling of the climate at Oregon State University predict a lower probability of imminent extreme climatic change than previously thought. The earth is going to be their laboratory. In the meantime we really need to worry about access to clean water and safe human sanitation and animal waste disposal.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Maryland Gets an A from the EPA-But it Costs $15 Billion

I decided to take a look at the Maryland Watershed Implementation Plan Phase II, WIP, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, felt did a better job of meeting their expectations than the Virginia Phase II WIP to see how a state gets an A- from the EPA. According to the EPA, Maryland’s Phase II WIP was very targeted and met EPA’s goals, especially in the breadth and depth of local engagement. Maryland used a top down model of compliance management favored by the EPA while engaging local communities. What Maryland did was develop the Maryland Assessment Scenario Tool (MAST) for the local officials to use to develop local implementation plans and meet their assigned target.  The MAST is a simplified version of the Chesapeake Bay Model that let Maryland run different scenarios to meet the TMDL goals for Maryland utilizing public comment and local conditions.

Maryland allocated the 58 Chesapeake Bay TMDL segment targets to the 24 counties and the City of Baltimore and each jurisdiction essentially developed a WIP for their jurisdiction. (Extra credit given for having 25 mini WIPs.)  There was a minor amount of massaging of the statewide target loads for nutrients and sediment provided by EPA to comply with the slightly lower goals of Maryland’s point source cap policy that was adopted as part of the 2004 Tributary Strategy. The Statewide Phase II WIP was essentially a rollup of the local WIPs for all Maryland Counties and the City of Baltimore with local implementation targets for wastewater, urban stormwater and on-site sewer systems, as well as analysis of local implementation capacity, capacity gaps, and implementation strategies for those source sectors and incorporating the nutrient and sediment goals above. Maryland plans to submit final local jurisdiction plans to the Maryland Department of the Environment, MDE, by July 1, 2012. Utilizing the MAST Maryland demonstrated to EPA that the near term milestones and the 2017 and 2025 WIP model input decks meet and exceed planning targets for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment statewide. Wow.

EPA requires that the “Interim Target” strategies, the first steps planed in the WIP should be designed to meet 60% of the Final Target TMDL reductions for nutrients and sediment. Maryland’s WIP and Interim Target strategy is projected by the MAST to achieve 91% of the nitrogen final target, 117% of the phosphorus final target and 401% of the sediment final target. Clearly nitrogen is the controlling factor in the Maryland WIP and mini-WIPs. The nitrogen load reductions planned for 2017 are planned to come from all the major sectors including air pollution.

Municipal waste water treatment plants (with some minor contribution from small industrial sites) will reduce their nitrogen release by 5.5 million pound per year. Maryland estimates that it will cost $2.37 billion to upgrade municipal waste water treatment plants with the costs incurred between 2009 and 2017 to finish upgrading the 42 major municipal plants and 5 minor municipal plants. No additional costs for upgrades or expansions are planned after 2017. These cost estimates do not include operations and maintenance costs. They also do not count costs incurred for private and federal plants that are also required to upgrade to ENR. Maryland’s execution on sewer upgrade plans has historically been slow; the sewer system in Baltimore still overflows with frightening regularity despite a consent order with the EPA signed in 2002.  In 10 years Baltimore has failed to upgrade their combined sewer system. The Baltimore public works department is in the 9th year of a $1 billion rehabilitation of the city’s aging, leaky sewer system, but now is apparently on a trajectory to complete system upgrades by 2017. Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff and domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe.

Maryland plans to reissue and implement Phase I and II MS4 permits to include the key requirements to implement WIP strategies in 2012. The stormwater sector is planned to reduce about 875,000 pounds per year of nitrogen by primarily requiring the retrofitting of 20% of currently developed land to modern stormwater management standards. This strategy will use the stormwater permit reductions to achieve this goal. Maryland estimates that between now and 2017 that will cost property owners $2.52 billion dollars and by 2025 will have cost $7.77 billion dollars. These costs address only the system upgrades, maintenance and operation costs are not addressed in this figure.

The agricultural sector will reduce their nitrogen load by 3.9 million pound a year by 2017. The vast majority of the reduction (3.2 million pounds) is from cropland, the remainder is from nurseries, pastures and AFOs (agricultural feeding operations). There is a slight increase in forest lands over the period reflecting a conversion to forest land cover, but it is unclear what land is converted to forest cover. The cost for to meet the 2017 load reduction strategy is $498 million with a total planned cost of $928 million to meet the 2025 goals. This does not include the cost associated with maintaining and verifying farm BMPs. Also, Maryland seems to have dropped the mandatory cover crop requirement that appeared in the first version of the WIP. EPA wants that requirement added to the Phase II WIP or an explanation why that is no longer necessary.

The WIP strategy will reduce nitrogen loads from septic systems by 396,000 pounds per year by 2017. This is accomplished by targeting septic systems within 1,000 feet of the “critical area” (which is within 1,000 feet of a tidally influenced water body) for either upgrading to nitrogen removal technology or connection to an advanced waste water treatment plant (one that has been upgraded to meet the higher standards). By 2017 this results in 14,754 new septic connections using nitrogen removal technology, 32,908 systems upgraded to nitrogen removal technology, 24,501 system pump outs and an unspecified number of connections to the sewer system. The cost was estimated to be $896 million by 2017 with the full strategy implementation by 2025 costing $3.72 billion.

According to the state budget, included in the WIP to meet the Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals for nutrient and sediment, but not accounted for in the stated costs are:  Doubling Transit Ridership by the end of 2020. Reducing Per Capita Electricity Consumption in Maryland by 15% by 2015. Increasing Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio by 20% by 2022. Finally, reducing Maryland’s Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 25% by 2020. These goals are an essential part of the comprehensive WIP to achieve nutrient and sediment clean-up goals for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Many of those steps are designed to reduce atmospheric nitrogen (NOx) that would help Maryland meet Clean Air Act Requirements and reduce air deposition of atmospheric nitrogen in the watershed. Part of the NOx problem will be addressed by federal rules like the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the Tier 3 Vehicle/Low Sulfur rule.

Maryland also plans legislation to increase the Bay Restoration Fund for enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) upgrades at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPS), on-site septic upgrades and hookups, and stormwater retrofits; Nutrient management regulation revisions; and local or state legislation to establish stormwater financing mechanisms. Maryland General Assembly, SB 614/HB 987, would require each local jurisdiction to collect a stormwater utility fee. The implementation plan seems extensive and complete even without the ability to review the input deck for the model and will more than meet EPA mandated TMDL goals. How Maryland intends to finance the entirety of this plan over the next 13 years is not clear.

By 2025 the Maryland plan will have implementation cost that are estimated to be $14.8 billion in 2011 dollars. Of that total $2.37 billion for waste water treatment upgrades, $7.8 billion in stormwater management costs is planned to be financed 81% from local fees and taxes the rest assumedly from property owners direct capital costs, and $3.7 billion in septic system upgrades, homeowner connections to the sanitary sewer system and increased septic tank pump outs that will predominately be borne by the homeowners. In taxes, fees or direct payments the 5.8 million residents of Maryland will pay in addition to their current taxes, and fees $14.8 billion over the next 13 years to meet the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Total revenue for the state was projected to be $14.4 billion for 2013 with a budget gap of $1 billion that the state needed to close by transferring the responsibility to pay the social security tax and half the retirement cost for the teachers to the local level and have eliminated more than 5,500 positions from State government.

Meanwhile the Maryland FY 2013 state budget included only $5 million to make progress on WIP goals, $4.2 million for State Highway Administration (SHA) stormwater management projects and $750,000 for WIP-related staff, equipment, and operating expenses in the Departments of Agriculture and Environment. The FY 2013 budget also includes $25 million for the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund to support urban and storm water projects, agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs), and targeted innovative practices within watersheds.
Taken from the Maryland Phase II WIP

Thursday, May 24, 2012

EPA Regulations and Electrical System Reliability

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that today there will be two public hearings, on the proposed carbon pollution standard for new power plants. The hearings will be all day and held in Washington DC and Chicago. Under the new rule, new power plants will have to emit no more than 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of energy produced. All existing plants and currently permitted and built in the next 12 months will be grandfathered and exempt from this new rule for now. According to the EPA, a coal plant currently produces about 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity. EPA says the rule creates “a path forward for new technologies to be deployed at future facilities that will allow companies to burn coal, while emitting less carbon pollution.” There is no commercially available technology for carbon sequestering that can meet this carbon standard for coal fired plants. EPA intends that carbon sequestering technology will be developed and can then be deployed on all future and existing coal burning plants or that the current crop of coal fired power plants will be the last.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s, NERC, whose mission is to ensure the reliability of the North American bulk power system, recently released their 2011 Reliability Assessment. NERC develops and enforces reliability standards; assesses the projected adequacy of the power generation capacity in the United States and Canada, and educates trains and certifies industry personnel. In 2007 the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted NERC the legal authority to enforce Reliability Standards with all U.S. users, owners, and operators of the bulk power system, and made compliance with those standards mandatory and enforceable.

The annual assessment of power generation capacity is intended to provide an independent view of the long term reliability of the North American power generation capacity while identifying trends, emerging issues, and concerns. NERC’s primary goal in their assessments is to make recommendations to ensure the reliability and adequacy of the electrical power supply. The most recent assessment found that the reliability of the power system remains adequate, though existing and proposed environmental regulations in the U.S. may significantly affect power system reliability. How significant an impact would depend on the scope, interpretation and timing of the rule implementation.

NERC identified potential impacts of recent environmental regulations as impacting the reliability of the U.S. power system. During the past year, EPA finalized four regulations that were specifically targeting coal fired power plants. The last was the carbon pollution standard that EPA is holding hearing for today, the others were in the news at various times throughout the past year. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) regulates mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. MATS was finalized on December 21. 2011. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, CSAPR, which requires reductions of sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions in coal fired plants, was made final in July 2011 but at the end of last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit granted a stay to the implementation of the CSAPR pending resolution of the legal challenges. In addition, EPA finalized the expanded Cooling Water Intake Structures Rule under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act that requires that National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for facilities with cooling water intake structures ensure that the location, design, construction, and capacity of the structures reflect the best technology available to minimize harmful impacts on the environment, effectively expanding the current regulation to cover existing electrical generation facilities.
NERC 2010 Special Reliability Scenario Assessment

According to the NERC, the Cooling Water Intake Structures Rule and MATS could potentially have the most significant and negative impact on electric system reliability. The degree of impact depends on how strictly the EPA implements these and the other rules. A tight compliance schedule with limited or no flexibility could take electrical capacity out of the system and that could impact reliability. Because industry plans for complying with these rules are not yet finalized, NERC was forced under its charter to identify the potential impact based on a modeling approach that was used in the October 2010 Special Reliability Scenario Assessment to identify potential failures in the power supply. Their analysis showed that while 2013 capacity impact would be negligible it was anticipated that between 40 and 69 gigawatts of existing coal fired electrical capacity would be removed by 2018, and between 6.5 and 7.4 gigawatts of capacity would be eliminated due to the operation of the additional environmental equipment needed for compliance. This is an anticipated impact of about 3%- 7% of the total electrical system capacity which NERC warns could threaten system reliability if the regulations are implemented too quickly and too strictly. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission now questions NERC's focus and statutory responsibilities, concluding that it "may have exceeded the functions" Congress intended for a reliability organization by evaluating electrical reliability impacts of these regulations and  other threats to the electrical capacity.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Cost of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL for Virginia

From Senate Finance Committee Report November 18, 2011

For the last three weeks of this month The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, DCR, is holding a series of public meetings on the Phase II of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL, Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) across the state. Meetings are scheduled in Richmond on May 23; Eastern Shore on May 23; Ruther Glen on May 30; Covington on May 30; and Harrisonburg on May 31.  For more information, call the DCR, Richmond office (804-786-1712). 

The Phase II WIP was submitted to EPA on March 30 and opened a formal public comment period on that will conclude on May 31.  The DCR planned a total of 8 meetings beginning on May 9th in Chesapeake, VA to provide a brief update on the status of the Phase II WIP, the next steps in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL planning process and to provide local governments, planning district commissions, soil and water conservation districts and other stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on the Phase II WIP.  The meetings were held with little publicity or advance notice.

On Tuesday, May 15th 2012 I attended the meeting in Prince William County  in a very overcrowded meeting room.  If you missed the meeting, don’t worry about it, DCR plans to put the presentation on line and all the details covered were included in the slides and there is still time to attend another meeting. Check the TMDL Homepage to see the presentation. The meeting was opened by Marc Aveni of Prince William County who had taken the time to personally call me to tell me about the meeting because I had called his office to ask if he knew when the meetings were planned.  James Davis-Martin of DCR presented the overview of the WIP Phase II.

About half of the land area of Virginia is drained by the creeks, streams and rivers that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and two-thirds of the state's population lives within the watershed. Chesapeake Bay pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment was mandated by the EPA to the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and the District of the Columbia. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL and the Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP) Phase I and II are designed to ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025, with at least 60 % of the pollution control measures called best management practices, BMPs, completed by 2017. While it will take years after 2025 for the Bay and its tributaries to fully heal, EPA expects and their computer model predicts that once the required BMPs are in place there will be gradual and continued improvement in water quality as BMPs reduce the nutrient and sediment run off and better control storm water so that the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem can heal itself.

The TMDL sets a total Chesapeake Bay watershed limit for the six states and Washington DC of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year. The Virginia TMDL is 53.4 million pounds of nitrogen, 5.4 million pounds of phosphorus and 2.6 billion pounds of sediment per year. That translates into a 21% reduction of nitrogen and sediment and a 25% reduction in phosphorus from 2009 the base year. The Virginia TMDL is further broken down into the 39 segments of the river basins that are in Virginia and EPA established a specific TMDL for each segment that must be met. To develop the Phase II WIP which required Virginia to identify how the counties and towns will implement the WIP, Virginia  had the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) staff subdivide the TMDL allocation from the 39 segments to the local government (county and town level). Each community was asked to input land use data that was not in agreement with the federally supplied data, catalog existing BMPs, develop implementation strategies and identify resource needs.  

Many of the smaller communities did not have the data or resources to even know if the land use data supplied by EPA was accurate. However, the larger communities and cities were able to provide much more detailed information, but that information is not currently publicly available. The northern Virginia communities were unable to obtain  approval of the planned strategies from the county elected officials before the submission deadline. In addition, 1.7 million acres (12.3%) of the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is federal land. Though this federal land includes the Jefferson National Forest, it also includes military bases and land controlled by 12 federal departments. The Virginia DCR plans to develop a memorandum of understanding, MOU, with the Department of Defense to develop a plan for their compliance with the TMDL and then extend that MOU to the other agencies. Several of the federal departments did not respond to the Virginia DCR request. 

The Phase II WIP drove the planning process for compliance with the TMDL down to the local level. This past legislative session, the Virginia legislature passed several bills to facilitate compliance with the federal mandate. HB 176 and SB 77 Nutrient credit certification; regulations.  HB 932 Voluntary Nutrient Management Plan Program; DCR to develop training and certification program. HB 1009 Land-disturbing activities; service of order for violation. HB 1065 Erosion & Sediment Control Stormwater, & Chesapeake Bay Preservation Acts; integration of all related programs.  Previously, the  Virginia General Assembly passed SB 1831 that bans phosphorus in most lawn fertilizers and more tightly restricts the use of fertilizer by professional lawn and turf service companies.  The Stormwater Regulations, 4VAC50-60,  finally went into effect on September 13, 2011 after a difficult journey. In addition, the James River Study was incorporated into the WIP.

From Senate Finance Committee Report 2011

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL and WIPs are a continuation of work begun with the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, Virginia’s 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act and the 2005 Tributary Strategies (designated in the chart above as TS). Over the years substantial improvement has been made in upgrading waste water treatment plants though many improvements to the combined sewer systems in Richmond and Lynchburg still need to be addressed. Also, significant progress has been made in implementing agricultural BMPs through the cost share program. Virginia’s nitrogen and Phosphorus loads into the Chesapeake Bay have fallen since 1985, but we have failed to meet the promised reductions under the various acts over the years. So, now under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL EPA can impose “backstops” to ensure that goals are met.

EPA has legal authority to regulate point source releases or contaminants and pollutants- wastewater, industrial, and municipal separate stormwater system (MS4), and concentrated animal feeding operation permits. If Virginia fails to meet the goals set under the TMDL in other areas (as identified under the Phase II WIP), EPA will reduce the allowable releases under the permits to make up the difference. In some cases these back stock measures would require an additional layer of treatment. In short this would be the most expensive way to meet the TMDL, so it represents a good "stick."  The best estimate of the cost to meet the TMDL (without EPA imposing “backstop”punishment measures) was the report prepared by the Virginia Senate Finance Committee at the end of 2011. They estimated that the total cost complying with the TMDL over the next 7-13 years will be $13.6 billion to $15.7 billion paid for by individual home owners in the case of septic system upgrades, water and sewage rate payers in the form of increased rates, property owners in the form of higher stormwater management fees and tax rate, state government and VDOT who get their funds from tax payers and local governments who also get their funds from tax payers. 

So, that big number will be paid for directly and indirectly by us (no matter what promises are made by local politicians) and someday soon the Chesapeake Bay will be clean. Like all estuaries the Bay is an incredibly complex ecosystem that we are only beginning to understand. Estuaries are very productive ecosystems and habitats. The Chesapeake Bay serves as a nursery ground for the fish and shellfish industry and protects the coast from storm surges and filters pollution. The estuary filters water that is carrying nutrients and contaminants from the surrounding watershed, protecting and restoring our drinking water supplies, the commercial oyster harvest and the beauty and ecological balance of the largest estuary in the United States. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is My Well Running Dry?

USGS Daily Groundwater Data Prince William County 49 V1 

The most common reason a well stops producing water is a pump failure or other mechanical component. Failure of the well itself is rarely sudden, but happens especially in drought. If your water supply has lost pressure, and seems to be drizzling out of your faucet your problem could simply be a loss of pressure in the pressure tank or damage to or a leak in the bladder in the pressure tank. If your water pulses as it comes out of the faucet, the most likely cause is short cycling of the pump, which could be caused by inadequate water supply or another faulty component in the pump system. However, there are times that the problem is the well and the water supply. For the plumbing system to function properly, the recharge rate in the well would have to equal at least the pump rate. The recharge rate or the well recovery rate is the rate that water actually flows into the well through the rock fissures. If the well cannot recharge at the same rate at which water is being pumped out of  the well, the system would suffer intermittent episodes of severe water pressure loss or possibly water loss. If you have water first thing in the morning and again when you get home from work, but the supply seems to run out especially when doing laundry or taking a shower. Then you may have a groundwater problem.  

If your water is supplied by a well, you need to be aware of the factors that impact your water supply and regularly practice household water conservation to live within your water resources. There are dry years and wet years and water will vary, though it is not always obvious. The groundwater aquifer you tap for water is not seen so you have to be aware of your water budget and live within it, something that transplants from the suburbs and city are not always aware of. Many who are on public water on the east coast are very accustomed to thinking of water supply as unlimited. Your well is not unlimited and you need to be aware of your water use. The US Geological Survey collected and compiled daily water use data for the nation and there are tremendous differences regionally and even from state to state. We have the most control over the amount of water we use in our homes and weather alone does not explain the different water usage rates. In Maryland average domestic water use was reported to be 109 gallons/day per person while here in Virginia the average water usage was 75 gallons/day per person. Pennsylvania to the north uses an average of 57 gallons/day per person. Ironically enough, in Nevada, an arid state, the average daily water use is 190 gallons/person.  When I interviewed Jeanne Bailey of Fairfax Water she confirmed that based on the regional drought response plan, per capita water use is higher in Maryland than Virginia. I do not know the causes of the variation beyond the weather, but the age of the water fixtures can contribute to the differences. There are tremendous differences in water consumption of appliances and fixtures based on their age and design. For example we all know about low-flush toilets which use 1.6 gallons per flush versus 5 gallons per flush for the older toilets. The same is true for washing machines, dishwashers and even showerheads.

The information on your wells performance and location can be obtained from the water well completion report on file with the department of health. Be aware though, that private well construction was not regulated inVirginia until 1992 and is still not regulated in many places.  The “stabilized yield” is the recharge rate at the time of installation. However, groundwater can change over time and it is commonly reported that the recharge rate falls over time from the initial recharge rate. Of course a drop in water pressure could just be caused by increased demand, if your pump is undersized for the number of plumbing fixtures in the house then using more than one bathroom at a time or doing laundry while taking a shower will cause a noticeable drop in water pressure. Laundry is the single most demanding water use in a home. Though the total number of gallons used for flushing typically exceeds laundry, the flushes are spread out during the day.

In the well, a diminished water supply can be caused by drop in water level in the well due to drought or over pumping of the aquifer, or the well could be failing (do not forget that equipment problems are the most common cause of well failure). Groundwater supply can change because groundwater systems are dynamic. In the Valley and Ridge of Virginia (west of 95 and before the Appalachian Plateau) the geology is characterized by unconsolidated overlay underlain by fractured rock. In the Piedmont region the fractured rock tends to be sedimentary rock and is carbonate rocks within the areas of karst terrain. Fractured rock systems tend to be water rich areas of Virginia, but not uniformly so. In the fractured rock systems of the Valley and Ridge wells draw groundwater from fractures in the bedding plane which is parallel to the strike (vertical fractures). Fractures can run dry.  In unconsolidated sediments of the coastal plain ground water is pulled from the saturated zone. In the Appalachian Plateau which is a flat layered rock system with horizontal fractures, the coal seams are typically the aquifer and groundwater is typically shallow. Coal country is the location of many shallower dug wells.

The water level in a groundwater well usually fluctuates naturally during the year. Groundwater levels tend to be highest in the early spring in response to winter snowmelt and spring rainfall when the groundwater is recharged. Groundwater levels begin to fall in May and typically continue to decline during summer as plants and trees use the available shallow groundwater to grow and streamflow draws water. Natural groundwater levels usually reach their lowest point in late September or October when fall rains begin to recharge the groundwater again. The natural fluctuations of groundwater levels are most pronounced in shallow wells that are most susceptible to drought. Older wells tend to be shallower. However, deeper wells may be impacted by an extended drought and take longer to recover. Land use changes that significantly increase impervious cover and stormwater velocity preventing recharge from occurring over a wide area and can make existing wells more susceptible to drought. Significant increases in groundwater use for industrial purposes like fracking can overtax and aquifer. Unless there is an earthquake or other geological event groundwater changes are not abrupt and problems with water supply tend to happen slowly as demand increases with construction and recharge is impacted by adding paved roads, driveways, houses and other impervious surfaces.  If your well tends to dry out during the summer when you try to do a load of laundry, you might want to address the problem before there is a drought when your well is likely to go dry. Addressing the problem could be as simple as implementing waterconservation strategies and measures, or could require replacing water fixtures, lowering a pump or deepening or replacing the well.   

The majority of wells are drilled wells that penetrate about 100-400 feet into the bedrock. The shallower dug wells are most useful in layered rock systems where you can use the coal seam to find water. Older wells in areas near springs and rivers tend also to be shallow, because they were installed before modern equipment in the shallow first aquifer.  In my neighborhood built in this century,  the deepest well is 450 feet below grade and the shallowest is 100 feet below grade. To provide a reliable supply of water, a drilled well must intersect bedrock fractures containing ground water and recharge at a rate greater than the typical domestic demand of 6-10 gallons per minute. In addition the pump must be in the saturated zone. The groundwater level can drop below the pump level as things like changes in demand, land use and drought change groundwater recharge. A temporary fix might be to lower the pump. Direct determination of the groundwater level in your well requires a water level meter which can cost hundreds of dollars, but a less direct indication of the status of your well might be obtained from a proxy well. The U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, maintains a group of 20 groundwater monitoring wells in Virginia that measure groundwater conditions daily and can be viewed online. One of the Virginia wells is just up the road from me in the same groundwater basin and is currently measuring below normal groundwater levels. It has been a dry spring so far I am keeping an eye on groundwater levels because one of the 100 foot wells in my neighborhood is mine and I am the last house before the river.

If you need help with a well problem, the wellcare® Hotline is staffed by the Water Systems Council (WSC), the only non-profit organization solely focused on private wells and small well-based drinkingwater systems. The Hotline operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and can be reached at 888-395-1033. Also, if you are in Virginia you can call or email the Virginia Master Well Owner’s Network for help. My name and email are near the bottom of the list with the volunteers and I am happy to help anytime.

Monday, May 14, 2012

EPA Gathering Data on Emerging Contaminants in Our Drinking Water

The Safe Drinking Water Act, SDWA, is the Federal law that protects the public from drinking water contaminants that pose a known health concern. Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, more than 80,000 chemicals are used within the United States. Not every drinking water contaminant with health consequence gets regulated because they may not be widely present in source waters. And not every regulated contaminant has health consequence. Some contaminants are regulated to control taste and odor. Though the SDWA was adopted in 1974, it has had significant amendments in 1986 and 1996 that added explicit health goals, risk management approaches and methods of gathering data to allow the SDWA to continue to evolve and ensure the public water supply systems in the United States remains among the safest in the world.

The 1996 amendments to the SDWA created the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, UCMR. This is the tool the EPA uses to determine if there are contaminants likely to pose a risk to the health of the nation. A contaminant is identified as being of a possible health concern in drinking water, by states, water systems, scientists or other sources.  Health information is collected and if deemed appropriate, occurrence and exposure information are collected using the UCMR data collection program for preliminary risk assessment then a determination is then made on whether there exists an opportunity to reduce public health risks by regulation and the contaminant is then added to the Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List. The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments require that once every five years, EPA issue a new list of no more than 30 unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems. The national sampling program provides the EPA with a scientifically valid database on the occurrence of these emerging contaminants in drinking water supplies.

The third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule list (UCMR 3) from the EPA was finalized and signed on April 16, 2012. The final version of the UCMR 3 requires public water systems, PWSs, serving more than 100,000 people to monitor their source and finished water for 30 contaminants using EPA approved analytical methods during 2013-2015 and provide the data to the EPA. Some smaller systems will be required to perform testing also, but EPA will pay for the analysis of all samples from systems serving 10,000 or fewer people and provide some technical assistance for sampling. In addition, EPA will select 800 representative PWSs serving 1,000 or fewer people that do not disinfect. These PWSs with wells that are located in areas of karst or fractured bedrock, will participate in monitoring for the 2 viruses during a 12-month period from January 2013 through December 2015. (This might be of particular interest to those in Raspberry Falls and Evergreen areas of Loudoun and Prince William Counties.) In all approximately 6,000 PWSs will collect data for a 12 months period creating a very powerful database so that overall exposure can be assessed.

EPA anticipates spending $20 million to subsidize the sampling and analysis in the small water systems, but the bulk of the sampling and analysis will be paid for by the large PWSs and ultimately by their rate payers. In this largest of systems, the anticipated cost of $50,000-$100,000 is not a significant burden, but on the mid-size systems the cost is noticeable. UCMR 2 cost Fairfax Water $50,000 in analysis and was entirely non-detect for all substances, but nationally, the nitrosamines were detected in 25% of the water systems tested. The levels detected ranged from 0.002-0.630 parts per billionwith an average of 0.009 ppb and might result in a regulatory standard for NDMAor all the nitrosamines. The only other UCMR 2 contaminants to appear at more than two of the 1,200 sample locations was the appearance of acetanilide pesticide degradation products in less than 5% of water systems testing. The levels found were up to 4 ppb and averaged less than 2 ppb. This is the only way EPA can gather data and determine if the population as a whole is being exposed to these substances and the levels of exposure. This is a primary data source for the EPA uses to make regulatory decisions for emerging contaminants. EPA has just opened nominations for the next list, UCMR 4. 

No actions have yet been taken as a result of the finding of UCMR 2, but N-nitorsodimethylamine, NDMA, may now be listed on the Drinking Water Contaminate Candidate List for potential regulatory action, but when I called the EPA to verify, they asked I submit my questions by email (which I did) and simply sent links to the Federal Register announcing the UCMR 3 which states “guide the
conduct of the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) process and support the Administrator in making regulatory decisions for contaminants in the interest of protecting public health, as required under SDWA.” That was a frustrating waste of effort.  NDMA is a carcinogen known to be present in various foods and industrial products. The EPA hasestablished a 10(-6) cancer risk level for NDMA of 0.7 ng/l. NDMA has been found in the effluents of various water and wastewater plants, but its formation mechanism is not fully understood.  As I understand it from other sources there is consideration of regulation on all nitrosamines.

EPA selected the contaminants by first reviewing the agency’s lists of contaminants that need additional research to support future drinking water protections, from states monitoring programs and recommendations from public hearings and comments. The contaminants selected are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems or were selected based on current occurrence research and health-risk factors. Hexavalent chromium was the last addition, added to the list after comments to the proposed list strongly supported its inclusion. This final list includes 6 heavy metals, 7 volatile organic compounds, 7 hormones, 6 perflorinated compounds, 2 viruses, chlorate and 1,4 dioxane. The complete list can be viewed on the EPA website. These contaminants that are not regulated by the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations; are anticipated to occur at public water systems; and may warrant regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA is using the UCMR 3 to determine if these substances are present in drinking water supplies throughout the nation and what levels. In the past 15 years, concerns have been raised about the fate and effects of these emerging contaminants of concern being released into watersheds through upland runoff from both urban and agricultural lands, sewage discharges, and industrial releases. Many of these routes of release are almost constant at very low levels and without widespread sampling and appropriate analysis it is impossible to know what substances might be a real threat to human health.  

Chemicals are everywhere in our modern world, they exist in pharmaceuticals, household products, personal care products, plastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals, human and animal waste; they are in short, all around us. These chemicals include organics, inorganic, polymers, complex reaction products, and biological materials. The technology used for chemical analysis has advanced to the point that it is possible to detect and quantify nearly any compound known to human kind down to less than a nanogram per liter or parts per trillion (1/1,000,000,000,000). This enhanced analytical ability has allowed scientists to discover that trace levels of pharmaceuticals, potential endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) and other emerging contaminants exist in surface water, have appeared in some groundwater and may to persist in the water through conventional and some advanced treatment trains to appear in our finished drinking water. What we don’t know is how prevalent these contaminants are and if these traces of compounds are a health concern.  

The emerging contaminants lack human health standards so the first step is to identify what substances are present at what levels in the environment. EPA has begun with water not only because there exists a way to mandate the data is collected on a national scale, but everyone drinks and bathes in water. Using the UCMR list to identify substances with widespread exposure through drinking water is the best way to prioritize contaminants. The next step would be to identify the acceptable human exposure level and need for regulation based on presence in the environment. Much of the environmental work in the past has been done on what are called the persistent priority pollutants, such as trace metals, pesticides, PCBs and PAHs, substances that persist in the environment.  Many of the emerging contaminants are environmentally non-persistent, but still may have health impacts. A non-persistent chemical breaks down and these breakdown products may be widely present in the environment.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fracking and Groundwater We Still Don’t Know

A study based on a computer model was created by Tom Myers, PhD, commissioned by the Catskill Mountainkeeper a Youngsville, NY Environmental group and The Park Foundation in Ithaca, NY and recently released. The model was commissioned after the NY New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NY DEC) initial finding in 2009 that hydraulic fracturing could not impact groundwater. The NY DEC went on to commission an environmental impact statement (EIS) on drilling that was released for public comment in September 2011. The EIS recommends that drilling be permitted, but with conditions. The comment period for the EIS closed on January 11, 2012 and the DEC is now developing regulations.

Dr. Myers’ model is being submitted too late to be part of the public comment period, and the model did not use sampling or case histories to build the relationships that project  contamination risks. Rather, Dr. Myers, a PhD in hydrology and a consultant in Reno, NV; built a computer model designed to predict how fracking fluids would move over time. I have not seen the model and do not know how simulations account for the natural fractures and faults in the underground rock formations and fluid flow in the underground, the permeability and stress dependent permeability, and fracture porosity changes. The model simulations have not been tested in field studies.

The Myers model predicts that fracking will dramatically speed up the movement of chemicals injected into the ground. Fluids in his simulation traveled distances within 100 years that would take tens of thousands of years under natural conditions. When the model factored in the Marcellus’ natural faults and fractures and an assumed shale permeability, fluids could move into an aquifer region an order of magnitude faster than that- in as little as three years. Terry Engelder, PhD geology at Pennsylvania State University an expert on the Marcellus Shale and considered by some to be an advocate for hydraulic fracturing has reviewed the model. In a recent interview Dr. Engelder questions the permeability of rock that Dr. Myers assumed in his model. I do not feel I am qualified to judge this work.  

Dr. Myers work is in conflict with other studies done on the topic, but that does not prove him wrong, only actual field studies over a number of years can actually prove him right or wrong. At present there is little or no evidence of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing of shale at normal depths. In Pavillion, Wyoming, were groundwater has been contaminated they used hydro fracking within the water table near drinking water wells. EPA initially announced that the glycols, alcohols, methane and benzene found in a test well the EPA drilled to the drinking water aquifer in Wyoming were likely due to fracking and then back peddled on that stating now the results were inconclusive and is performing additional testing. In an interesting coincidence or not, NRDC, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Sierra Club and the Oil and Gas Accountability Project commissioned the same Tom Myers to review EPA’s draft report and Dr. Myers found “… the evidence presented in the EPA report …it is clear that hydraulic fracturing … has caused pollution of the Wind River formation and aquifer.” I did not find the evidence quite as compelling and agreed with the EPA that additional testing needs to be done. Dr. Myers continues with: “Three factors combine to make Pavillion-area aquifers especially vulnerable to vertical contaminant transport from the gas production zone or the gas wells – the geology, the well design, and the well construction.” True.

Dr. Myers current study deals with the Marcellus Shale. The model appears to assume that fluid migration will be away from the well. According to a research summary at the University of Texas at Austin, in the long term after fracturing is completed, the fluid flow is toward (not away from) the well as gas enters the well bore during production. Some with concerns about fracking allege while there may be a relatively small risk to water supplies from any individual hydraulic fracturing, a large number of wells within a formation like the Marcellus shale has a higher likelihood of negative impacts. However, the impact on a shale formation of a group of fracturing wells has not been studied. Fracking has outpaced our knowledge of the consequences.

In hydraulicfracking on average 2-5 million gallons of chemicals (< 1%), propping agent(<4.5%)  and water (>94.5%) are pumped into the shale formation at 9,000 pounds per square inch and literally cracks the shale or breaks open existing cracks and allows the trapped naturalgas to flow. After hydraulic fracturing a shale gas well, the fluid pressure is relieved and a portion of the injected fluid returns to the well bore as "flowback" water to the surface for treatment, recycling, and/or disposal. The amount of injected fluid returned as flowback ranges widely from 20% to 80%  due to factors that are not well understood by scientists, regulators or industry. It is not known whether the fracking fluids are absorbed into shale formation or instead migrate.  The route of escape may be through propagation of the induced fractures out of the target zone and into the aquifers, or intersection of induced fractures with natural fracture zones that lead toaquifers. The fracking fluid does not just disappear. No evidence of chemicals from hydraulic fracturing fluid has been found in aquifers as a result of fracturing operations, but impacts of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater have not been carefully monitored over a period of years.

 It is essential to determine the vertical and horizontal separation that is necessary to protect the drinking water aquifers from fracking and what impact new rounds of hydraulic fracturing can have on previous developed areas with old abandoned wells or currently producing wells before watersheds are damaged or destroyed. Building dueling computer models based variously on Hookes’ Law, and Darcy’s law or classical theory is not the way to determine this. The fate of the unrecovered fracking fluid needs to be found. It is believed by many geologists and engineers that the intervening layers of rock would prevent a fissure from extending thousands of feet to the water table this assumption needs to be tested in the real world, and the long term impact of fracking, deep well injection and fluid disposal has on watersheds needs to be studied and monitored and a safe separation distances from aquifers need to be determined. Then increased oversight needs to be implemented to ensure that this separation is maintained (despite inevitable requests for waivers), improve well-design requirements and ensure their consistent implementation and require the appropriate treatment and recycling of drilling waste water. Use of waste water treatment plants that were designed to address biological solids to treat millions of gallons of water used for hydraulic fracturing or ponding the waste is short sighted and imprudent. The deep well injection commonly used in Texas may have consequences beyond small earthquakes. 

Right now there is an excess of natural gas and the price is still well below $3 per million BTU which is the estimated cost of shale gas from fracked wells in the Marcellus Shale. This is a great time to intensely study the environmental impacts from fracking- when we aren’t desperate for the natural gas and EPA has just released a set of air release rules and draft water permitting rules addressing fracking and is about to release a set of regulations for fracking on Federal land. The Department of the Interior estimates that over 3,000 wells are fracked on Federal and Tribal land each year. Sounds like a good number of test sites. Though it would help to baseline the water quality (or at least reduce the costs for analysis) to know the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracking water before not after the frack. However, since long term monitoring is needed it should not make much of a difference in analytical costs. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Keystone Pipeline the Saga Continues

On May 4th 2012 TransCanada Corporation announced their application for a Presidential Permit to build the northern most section of the Keystone XL pipeline (Phase IV) from the Canadian Border from where Saskatchewan meets Nebraska using an as yet undetermined route through Nebraska to join up with the Keystone Phase II which runs from Steel City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma. This is the newest step after announcing on February 27th 2012 their intension to build the Cushing Oklahoma to the Nederland, Texas portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Keystone Phase III, a 435 mile extension of the existing Keystone pipeline to Port Arthur and Houston areas. The Keystone Phase III Project (Oklahoma to Texas) is expected to begin construction this summer and begin operations in mid to late 2013. TransCanada hopes to have the northern section completed in 2015.

If you recall the   existing Keystone Pipeline Phase I runs from Hardesty, Canada to Steel City, Nebraska near the Kansas and Nebraska border. Keystone Phase II runs from Steel City to Cushing, Oklahoma where it terminates, leaving the Canadian crude oil stranded in Oklahoma along with U.S. domestic production from North Dakota that has been using the pipeline to reach the Oklahoma storage facilities. Increased U.S. oil production combined with the Canadian production has produced a glut of oil waiting to be refined in Cushing, OK.

Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executiveofficer was quoted in the TransCanada press release as saying: "KeystoneXL will transport U.S. crude oil from the very large Bakken oil basin inMontana and North Dakota, along with Canadian oil, to U.S. refineries.” Mr. Girling added that he expected the cross border permit to be processed expeditiously and a decision made once a new route in Nebraska is determined. TransCanada is working directly with Nebraska's Department of environmental Quality (DEQ), to determine an alternative route for Keystone XL Phase IV that avoids the environmentally sensitive Sandhills watershed. Several alternate routes and a preferred route were submitted to the DEQ April 18. The DEQ will now determine a specific route and oversee the public comment and review process. Once a route is finalized, it will be submitted as part of the Presidential Permit application.

The Keystone XL Pipeline has been very controversial. Most of the environmental controversy has focused on the porous soils of the Sandhills and fears of a possible oil leak into one of the nation's most important agricultural aquifers. Moving the pipeline away from the aquifer should mitigate that concern. However, many who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline want to prevent the development of the oil sands resources in Canada to prevent the acceleration of global warming. The Canadian oil sands have been known for decades, but until oil prices rose and technology improved these oil deposits were too expensive to exploit beyond the limited scope of surface mining. Advances in technology in both oil sand extraction and refining techniques and rising oil prices altered the economics and have made the extraction of oil sand possible. While the advances in extraction techniques have quadrupled recoverable oil reserves and moved Canada into second place in proved world oil reserves, it requires more energy to produce the oil and increases the carbon footprint of the crude as compared to oil from the Middle East or Brazil.

The current method of mining the Canadian oil sands increases the CO2 released in every gallon of gas adding to man’s carbon footprint. In addition, older methods of mining the oil sands left open pits that still need to be reclaimed, thought today groups of wells are typically drilled off a central pad and like fracking wells and can extend for miles in all directions. This reduces surface disturbances of the land and the footprint of the area to be reclaimed.

The Keystone XL is planned to initially transport of 830,000 barrels a day with a planned expansion of 1.3 million barrels a day of oil, to be processed in the oil refineries along the Gulf Coast and in Oklahoma and used within the U.S.  According tothe U.S. Energy Information Agency, the U.S. consumes 14 to 15 million barrels of oil each day. Current imports amount to almost 9 million barrels a day, approximately 60% of the United States' requirements. The Keystone XL pipeline could ultimately represent 10%-14% of oil imports.  

In June 2010 TransCanada commenced commercial operation of the first phase of the Keystone Pipeline System. Keystone's Phase I was the conversion of natural gas pipeline to crude oil pipeline and construction of a bullet line that brings the crude oil non-stop from Canada to Steel City at 435,000 barrels a day. Phase II of Keystone was an extension of the pipeline from Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma and began operations in February 2011. Keystone Phase II increased the volume per day of Keystone Phase I with the addition of pumping stations; the system now runs at 591,000 barrels a day. The Seaway pipeline, a joint venture between Enterprise Products Partners L.P. and Enbridge Inc., will begin operations in June completing the ability to pipe crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast carrying 150,000 barrels a day. The Keystone Phase III when it is completed will increase volume in the Oklahoma to Texas portion of the pipeline. The Keystone Phase IV when and if approved will increase volume of the upper portion of the pipeline from the current 591,000 barrels a day initially to 830,000 barrels a day then to 1.3 million barrels a day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

IEA Says $ 5 Trillion needed to Prevent Global Warming

International Energy Agency (IEA) was established in November 1974 in response to the global oil crisis created by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Its primary mandate was to promote energy security amongst its member countries by organizing a collective response to future oil embargo's or other disruptions in the oil supply. Over the years the mission has evolved to include holding global warming at 2°C by providing policy recommendations for ways to ensure reliable, clean energy for its 28 member countries (which includes the United States). The IEA has become a tracker of carbon dioxide releases and investment in carbon control technologies. They released their annual progress report to member countries on implementing clean energy and carbon dioxide controls worldwide geared to preventing global temperatures from increasing more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels called the Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 2°C Scenario Report, EDP 2DC for short .

Though filled with cheerful statement about accomplishments in installing solar panels and the growth in wind turbines, the report tells us that the world is not really doing that well at instituting clean energy technologies. The EDP 2DC, states that it is still feasible to prevent the earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius if “timely and significant government policy action is taken, and a range of clean energy technologies are developed and deployed globally,” but we’re pretty much out of time. The government action required is spending more money, much more money. The money is to be spent for the development and implementation of clean technologies to reduce Energy related CO2 emissions by over 5 billion metric tons before 2020 and continue to fall thereafter to less than half of the current level while world population continues to grow. The IEA estimates that the  additional investment cost of achieving these carbon reductions would cost $5 trillion by 2020, but the countries would save $4 trillion (in future dollars) in fuel not burned from the scenario where the world just marches forward on its current path and doubles it’s fossil fuel use by 2050.

Worldwide CO2 emissions are up 6% from 2009, to over 30 billion metric tons, in 2010. Thirty billion metric tons of CO2 is an increase of 40% above the 1990 levels and it seems impossible that any group of policy recommendations will stop the increase in energy use in the emerging markets from continuing. The IEA estimates that the since 2000, China has more than tripled its installed capacity of coal power plants, while India’s capacity has increased by 50%. Unfortunately, they have not used to most efficient designs and technologies available in those plants. In addition, while the IEA strategy includes doubling the nuclear power capacity by 2025, almost 440 nuclear reactors in operation across the world remained virtually constant over the past decade, with 32 reactors shut down and the same number added to the grid. Overall, nuclear capacity increased by 6%, due to installation of larger reactors and power upgrades in existing reactors.  However, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan have developed plans to phase out their nuclear reactors in the next decade in response to the damage to the nuclear reactors that occurred in the Japanese tsunami. Finally, while wind and solar power have enjoyed significant growth in the past few years, the world economic climate has forced many nations (notably Germany and Spain) to reduce or eliminate solar incentives and IEA doubts that the growth rate in this area can be sustained. 

The worldwide level of CO2 is higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts just five years ago, but fortunately temperatures have not (yet) risen as projected by the climate models.  The relationship of climate change to worldwide CO2 levels may not be the one assumed in the climate models, nonetheless, the IEA report assumes the projections of the climate models are the absolute trajectory of global temperatures.  Recently,  the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced total gross US emissions of CO2 equivalents in 2010 was to 6,822 million metric tons of carbon dioxide gross,and 5,746 million metric tons of CO2 net of the carbon sink of our forests. The peak of CO2 emissions in the US was 2007 and though emissions have increased since 2009, they are still below 2007 levels. This is true for most of the older first world nations whose carbon emission have already peaked or have slowed their growth significantly. Now the developed world is struggling with huge budget deficits, how to implement austerity measures and how to fund the entitlements programs, pensions, health care and other government promises. The emerging nations are sprinting to build power infrastructure in their nations where significant portions of their citizens do not have reliably available electric power or yet have cars. This does not seem to be a scenario where the recommended policies and strategies are likely to be implemented.

The IEA report talks about how technologies from electric vehicles, solar panels, nuclear generators, to wind farms and technologies to sequester carbon can make a decisive difference in limiting global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. EDS 2DC provides policies for nations on how to spend their way to a cleaner energy future. The IEA believes that the technologies with the greatest potential for energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions savings are making the slowest progress: “carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not seeing the necessary rates of investment into full-scale demonstration projects and nearly one-half of new coal-fired power plants are still being built with inefficient technology; vehicle fuel-efficiency improvement is slow; and significant untapped energy-efficiency potential remains in the building and industry sectors.”

The development of carbon sequestion technology is a one of the big leaps of faith, but the implementation of energy saving strategies like insulation, efficient lighting and higher efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, on commercial and residential buildings are seemingly easy improvements because they show a short term and immediate return on investment and are simple to do. Commercial and residential buildings account for 32% of energy use and improved insulation and changes in temperature settings, lighting efficiency and other small choices could reduce world energy use 8-10% yet nations have failed to adopt regulations and implementation strategies to promote this. We have failed to accomplish even the most straight forward of the policy goals while spending huge amounts of money on renewable energy incentives. The IEA continues to pursue a mirage of a future where renewable energy and carbon sequestion will save us. Instead, IEA needs to spend their brain power and resources in developing strategies for living in the world we are going to find ourselves in.