The Dernogalizer

February 24, 2010

Energy & Commerce Committee Investigates Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 5:19 pm
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This post is a little late, but important nonetheless considering the growing influence of natural gas in the energy mix and climate debate.
WASHINGTON, DC — Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey today sent letters to eight oil and gas companies that use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from unconventional sources in the United States.  The Committee is requesting information on the chemicals used in fracturing fluids and the potential impact of the practice on the environment and human health.

Hydraulic fracturing could help us unlock vast domestic natural gas reserves once thought unattainable, strengthening America’s energy independence and reducing carbon emissions,” said Chairman Waxman.  “As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems.  This investigation will help us better understand the potential risks this technology poses to drinking water supplies and the environment, and whether Congress needs to act to minimize those risks.”

Natural gas can play a very important role in our clean energy future, provided that it is produced in a safe and sustainable way,” said Subcommittee Chairman Markey.  “By getting more information from the industry about hydraulic fracturing practices, Congress can help ensure that development of this important resource moves forward in a manner that does not harm the environment.”

As Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the last Congress, Rep. Waxman requested and received information from the largest hydraulic fracturing companies – Halliburton, BJ Services, and Schlumberger – on the chemicals used in their fracturing fluids. According to this data, two of these companies used diesel fuel in their fracturing fluids between 2005 and 2007, potentially violating a voluntary agreement with EPA to cease using diesel.  Halliburton reported using more than 807,000 gallons of seven diesel-based fluids.  BJ Services reported using 2,500 gallons of diesel-based fluids in several fracturing jobs.  Halliburton and BJ Services also indicated that they used other chemicals – such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene – that could pose environmental risks in their fracturing fluids.

Today Chairmen Waxman and Markey sent letters seeking additional information from Halliburton, BJ Services, and Schlumberger on these and related issues.  The Chairmen requested similar information from five smaller fracturing companies that comprise a growing share of the market:  Frac Tech Services, Superior Well Services, Universal Well Services, Sanjel Corporation, and Calfrac Well Services.

In addition, the Chairmen sent a memo to Members of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment detailing the background on the issue, including EPA’s recent work on hydraulic fracturing, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s investigative findings, and the need for additional oversight and investigation.

The letters and the memo are available on the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s website at this link.


Greenpeace takes on Facebook over Coal Powered Data Center

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 5:06 pm
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I had a post last week about Facebook’s new data center being powered with coal.  Greenpeace jumped on Facebook not long after, and I’m sharing some parts of a recent blog post Greenpeace has made on the issue.

“How the internet is powered is an issue not just for Facebook but for the entire IT industry. The industry holds many of the keys to reaching our climate goals by innovating internet based solutions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency. Technologies that enable smart grids, zero emissions buildings, and more efficient transport systems are central to efforts to combat climate change.

However, the IT industry’s global environmental footprint is still growing — in fact, it’s set to double by 2020. In 2008, The Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) issued SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age. The study showed the incredible efficiencies IT can create, but it also highlighted the massive footprint of the IT industry and predicted that because of the rapid economic expansion in places like India and China, among other causes, demand for IT services will quadruple by 2020.”

“Moreover, burning coal contributes the largest share of CO2 emissions globally, as well as contributing to increased asthma, acid rain, and mortality from other pollutants. Facebook’s decision to choose a company primarily powered by coal over other cleaner sources of energy is a missed opportunity to strike a blow against this dirty fuel and drive a clean energy economy. We expect more from a company that was recently named the most innovative by Fast Companymagazine.

In fact, other data center operators are realizing that efficiency is only part of the equation in dealing with company footprint. Yahoosimilarly chose a cooler climate in Buffalo, NY for a data center in order to reduce the need for energy intensive cooling systems, but it chose its location based on access to lower carbon hydropower.Google has established Google Energy, which was recently granted its application to become a wholesale electricity buyer and seller. Google will hopefully use this standing to drive more renewable energy powered data centers.”

“We want Facebook users to tell the company that you love using Facebook, but you want them to dump coal. You can get involved by joining one of the numerous Facebook groups that have sprung up to raise awareness about Facebook’s choice of coal power for its Prineville data center. You can also use your networks and creativity to spread the word on other online social networks about the campaign. The internet is one of the greatest inventions& ever for creating social change. Let’s use it.”

UMD and College Park come to Agreement over Washington Post Plant, Hillock Saved

I had a post a couple of weeks ago about whether the University of Maryland and the City of College Park could reach consensus on the university’s purchase of the Washington Post Plant.

Here is what I wrote: “The environmental community in College Park has been on the edge of its seat since it was brought to light that the University of Maryland had made a bid for the abandoned Washington Post Plant in College Park.  The point of the purchase was for UMD to relocate its facilities from East Campus to the plant, so they could do their East Campus development.  This move would mean that the fight to save the Wooded Hillock, 9 acres of forest, would be won by the environmental activists advocating for its preservation.  However, the City is upset about this decision because of the lack of transparency that led up to it, along with the fact that College Park would lose tax revenue from UMD owning the plan since they’re a state institution, and thus tax exempt.  The Maryland Board of Public Works has to approve the purchase, and the approval is likely contingent on the support of the city.

So the question is, can UMD and the city agree to a PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) where the university would compensate the city for some of all of its lost revenue?  I think that answer is yes because both parties badly want to see the East Campus development completed, and they won’t let something as petty as a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of a 900 million dollar development that would generate a lot of tax revenue for the city, and graduate housing for the university.

The following is the letter the city council sent to the university after their meeting on Tuesday, and the response the university recently sent back.  It looks like they’re moving towards an agreement.

Dr. Mote Washing Post Letter


I recently received a new letter the city sent to the board of public works supporting the purchase.  The two parties came to an agreement.  Here is the letter.

The noteworthy environmental excerpt from the letter: “We are also pleased that UMCP has confirmed that, with the purchase of the Post Plant, the University has no plans to use any part of the wooded hillock area on campus for building sites, and is currently studying the best uses for this area that meet the expectations of the academic community”



and Match

University of Maryland gets Solar Panels

The Diamondback has an article out today about my university getting solar panels on the roof of its dining hall.  I’m re-posting it below.

New solar panels on Diner’s roof should save $1.7M annually

by Dana Cetrone

The Diner is going solar.

Twenty new solar panels that will be used to generate heat were installed on the roof of The Diner in North Campus last week — the latest step in a university plan to overhaul utilities in nine buildings to be more energy efficient.

The 20 solar panels are meant to generate one-third of The Diner’s hot water, which is used for cooking and washing dishes and hands, university officials said.

Although the projects included in the Energy Performance Contract will cost $20 million, Dining Services officials said in the end, the university will break even in costs because the money saved will be used to pay back the 10-year loan it received from a state program used to foot the construction bill.

“The solar panels are just a piece of the amazing energy saving puzzle we are so proud of,” Assistant Director of Facilities for Dining Services Greg Thompson said.

In line with the university’s long-term goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the campus to zero by 2050, the solar panel instillation comes on the heels of a slew of other green alterations being made to campus facilities.

According to the report issued on the project in October, the expected annual carbon reduction these alterations will provide is equal to the university planting about 20,700 trees every year.

This year, the university equipped high-rise dorms and other newly constructed buildings with water-conserving toilets, exchanged all lights on the campus with energy-efficient fixtures, replaced all air conditioning compressors and added five new exhaust hoods —used to moderate the amount of steam allowed to escape — onto building pipes .

“When completed, it is projected to save about $1.7 million annually in avoided energy costs — nearly 5 million kilowatt-hours and 2.5 million gallons of water,” Facilities’ Conservation Manager Susan Corry said.

The exhaust hoods alone have already saved 26,000 kilowatts per hour each since being installed in the last year, said Joe Mullineaux, senior associate director of Dining Services.

“The Energy-Saving Opportunity began about one year ago, and all upgrades to North Campus Diner will be completed by the end of the semester,” Mullineaux said.

Johnson Controls, the company responsible for installing all the new, green utilities, will be paid with money borrowed from the state through a program that offers up to $70 million in loans to government agencies to purchase construction equipment.

Solar panels are also expected to be installed on the roof of Cole Field House. They will be primarily used to power the Driskell Center — a center dedicated to studying and showcasing African Diaspora art and culture.

Project construction in other campus locations is expected to continue through April 2011. Looking to the future, facilities officials have said the university may expand the project to encompass six more buildings, including the Art-Sociology Building, the Plant Sciences Building and Easton Hall. But the South Campus Dining Hall will not see any new solar panels or other green equipment installed anytime soon.

Clean energy education: RE-ENERGYSE America

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 12:46 am
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I had an Op-Ed out today in The Diamondback on RE-ENERGYSE, a federal clean energy education initiative the Obama administration is proposing.

Clean energy education: RE-ENERGYSE America

by Matt Dernoga

As far as states go, this state is fairly ambitious when it comes to producing clean energy, creating green jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, Gov. Martin O’Malley approved a law mandating the state to reduce these emissions to 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020. This can largely be achieved by reaching for low-hanging fruit, such as energy efficiency and deployment of existing low-carbon technologies. But what about after 2020? What about the other 75 percent?

We shouldn’t just be asking this question about emissions for the state but also the United States and the emerging clean energy industry throughout the world. As countries and states pick the low-hanging fruit, they’re going to look for more advanced, innovative and efficient technologies to get steeper emissions reductions. Is the United States going to be importing them or exporting them?

RE-ENERGYSE, a new federal education initiative centered on the exploding clean energy sector, has been proposed by President Barack Obama’s administration. If funded by Congress for fiscal year 2011, RE-ENERGYSE would be run by the Energy Department and the National Science Foundation with an initial investment of $74 million in clean energy-related education at K-12 schools, universities, and community and technical colleges. The beloved Solar Decathlon, a competition to build the most attractive energy-efficient, solar-powered house in which this university won second place in 2007, would become part of this program.

RE-ENERGYSE would create cutting-edge undergraduate and graduate clean energy programs in universities, provide scores of scholarships and fellowships for aspiring scientists and engineers and equip thousands of technically skilled workers at community colleges for clean energy jobs. It has a goal of putting up to 6,000 professionals into the clean energy sector by 2016, and up to 13,000 by 2021.

This support could see scientists from this university playing a key role in the development of new energy sources. Our scientists are already working on cellulosic ethanol and biofuels from algae. The Chesapeake Bay region could significantly benefit from the commercial development of cellulosic ethanol, considering the large amount of biomass we get from all the feedstocks grown. Scientists are experimenting with growing algae at wastewater treatment plants, which could filter a source of the bay’s water pollution and then produce a renewable fuel.

I constantly read about the potential for new breakthroughs such as solar panels that capture infrared radiation, meaning they would work at night, or a new test plant in Norway that uses the simple process of osmosis to drive a turbine and generate electricity. I’m not kidding — Google it.

Funding RE-ENERGYSE is far from a slam dunk. In 2009, the Obama administration appropriated it in its fiscal year 2010 budget, but it was nixed in the Senate’s appropriations process. This is why it’s important for students to write to their representatives in support of RE-ENERGYSE.

In order to lead the world in global energy technology this century, we have to do more than invest in green-collar jobs for today. We need to create an unparalleled clean energy education initiative to give our up and coming scientists the support they need to innovate for America. This will ensure the green jobs of tomorrow are ours. RE-ENERGYSE is an important step in the right direction — a step toward that other 75 percent. Let’s go for it.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

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