The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Trump administration is proposing to repeal a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule aimed at ensuring hydraulic fracturing does not pollute water supplies, claiming that it triggers unjustified compliance costs and duplicates state rules.

“Upon further review of the 2015 final rule … the BLM believes that the 2015 final rule unnecessarily burdens industry with compliance costs and information requirements that are duplicative of regulatory programs of many states and some tribes,” agency officials wrote. “As a result, we are proposing to rescind, in its entirety, the 2015 final rule.”

The rule imposed well casing and wastewater storage requirements as well as required drillers to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulically fractured wells. Estimated to cost the oil and gas industry $32 million to $45 million a year, the rule has been the target of legal challenges since it was finalized in 2015.

It was among several Obama-era environmental rules President Donald Trump directed his administration to review and potentially rescind in a March executive order (subscription).

Research Highlights Little Studied Source of Methane Emissions

Climate change is allowing the release of methane from thawed permafrost according to aerial samplings of emissions from Canada’s Mackenzie River Basin, home to known oil and gas deposits. Research published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that the melting permafrost contributes to a warming climate not just through the natural production of biogenic methane but also through emissions of fossil gas, contributing significantly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback.

Between 2012 and 2013, the research team led by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences took aerial geochemical samples, finding 13 times more methane than would be expected from typical microbial methane emissions rates. Although geological methane hotspots cover only 1 percent of the total area of the basin, they contribute to some 17 percent of its annual methane emissions.

“This is another methane source that has not been included so much in the models,” said lead author Katrin Kohnert. “If, in other regions, the permafrost becomes discontinuous, more areas will contribute geologic methane.”

Trump Cabinet: New Environment Nomination Draws Criticism

President Donald Trump has nominated Samuel Clovis to serve as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of research, education and economics, the department’s top science post. Clovis is a former college economics professor and talk radio who has challenged the scientific consensus that human activity has been the primary driver of climate change.

The Washington Post points to2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio, where Clovis noted that he was “extremely skeptical” about climate change and added that “a lot of the science is junk science.”

E&E Daily reports that some see Clovis as committed to agricultural research. CNN and other media outlets highlighted a stipulation in the Farm Bill that “the Under Secretary shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics,”—requirements, they say, that Clovis’ nomination appears to violate.

A White House statement about Clovis’ nomination lists his background as largely military, noting that “Clovis holds a B.S. in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University and a Doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama. He is also a graduate of both the Army and Air Force War Colleges. After graduating from the Academy, Mr. Clovis spent 25 years serving in the Air Force.”

His nomination was among eight sent to the Senate Tuesday.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

 

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” featured dramatic clips of people whose tap water could be set on fire, apparently a side effect of “fracking,” a method of opening up fissures deep underground to unlock natural gas.

A new Duke study backs up these residents’ woes, finding that drinking water near fracking sites had average methane levels 17 times higher than normal. (Natural gas is mainly composed of methane.) The methane in the water wells also had a chemical signature that showed it was from deep underground, where companies are doing fracking.  

Meanwhile, the Obama administration formed a blue ribbon panel to look into fracking safety. France had already put a temporary freeze on drilling into shale gas and oil formations, and now their National Assembly has passed a bill to ban exploration for shale gas or oil

It’s Not Easy Being Green

The summary of a major report on renewable energy from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was leaked earlier in draft form, and has now been published and has generated a lot of discussion. Some touted the study’s findings that by mid-century, renewable energy could power at least 80 percent of projected energy demand, while others pointed out this was based on the most optimistic of the study’s 160 scenarios. So far, only the 25-page summary has been released; details to back up the study’s conclusions will await publication of the full report.

The IPCC report included biomass as a major player in the future of renewable energy. But today’s biofuels can be worse for the climate than conventional fossil fuels, according to another new study, because of the emissions from clearing land, growing crops, and processing the plants to turn them into fuel.

Backing Away from Nuclear

Japan’s prime minister announced the country will abandon plans to expand nuclear power, and it will “start from scratch” on a new energy policy that puts more emphasis on renewables.

As a response to the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactors, Germany temporarily shut down its seven oldest nuclear power plants. The New York Times reports a panel appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel has recommended closing all of Germany’s nuclear reactors within a decade—reactors that currently provide about one-fifth of the country’s electricity.

In the U.K., the Committee on Climate Change, a group advising the U.K. government, recommended building more nuclear power plants, as well as relying on wind turbines, to meet the country’s greenhouse gas emission goals.

The U.K.’s existing policies won’t meet those goals, according to a new assessment—but a massive new energy bill is wending its way through the U.K. Parliament that aims to boost emissions cuts. The bill now carries an additional measure that aims to seal up the country’s famously drafty homes, by making it illegal for landlords to rent their properties unless they meet energy efficiency standards.

Weather Woes

Swathes of the U.S. South and Midwest have been socked by wild weather this spring. First, the areas suffered 800 tornadoes in April. Now the Mississippi is flooding with the highest levels on record in some regions—and global warming has likely played a role in the flooding, since rainfall in the region has risen 10 to 20 percent over the past century, said meteorologist Jeff Masters. The floods would likely break records along the length of the river if it weren’t for controlled levee breaches that have released water onto spillways and farmland. Perhaps it is time, argues Good, to follow in the footsteps of the Dutch, with their “Room for the River” policy, and give up more ground to rivers to adapt to climate change.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.