from the world's big
It's one of the nation's worst oil spills on record.
- The accident occurred in the Siberian city of Norilsk.
- The company said thawing permafrost caused a fuel tank to collapse.
- Thawing permafrost poses a major threat to Russia's oil industry, which is the world's third largest.
Greenpeace Russia<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The incident led to catastrophic consequences, and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come," Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, <a href="https://wwf.ru/en/resources/news/zelenaya-ekonomika/wwf-razliv-diztopliva-v-norilske-trebuet-federalnogo-vmeshatelstva-/" target="_blank">said in a statement</a>. "We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds and poisoned animals."</p><p>Greenpeace <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/06/04/869936256/russian-power-plant-spills-thousands-of-tons-of-oil-into-arctic-region" target="_blank">said</a> the clean-up won't do much good:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The booms that were set up will only collect an insignificant part of the pollution, so we can assert that almost all of the diesel fuel will remain in the environment."</p><p>Norilsk Nickel, the owner of the power plant, said the fuel tank collapsed because of "abnormally mild temperatures" in the permafrost.</p>
How climate change threatens Russian oil<p>Russia, the world's fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The nation is warming <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russian-government-acknowledges-climate-change-publishes-a-plan-outlining-its-positives/" target="_blank">two and a half times faster</a> than the rest of the planet, and in recent years it's suffered costly floods and <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/siberia-wildfires-russia-potential-disaster-climate-change-both-feed-off-and-contribute-to-warming-greenpeace/" target="_blank">wildfires</a>.</p><p>Thawing permafrost in Siberian regions poses a major threat to Russia's oil industry, which is the world's third largest. One key reason, as evidenced by last week's accident, is that melting permafrost jeopardizes the structural integrity of oil-field infrastructure.</p><p>Of course, when oil infrastructure is jeopardized, so is the environment. That's why Greenpeace Russia is calling for increased environmental regulations and unscheduled audits of oil producers in the nation's Arctic region.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Environmental control should be strengthened, and the operation of facilities should be under special control to prevent accidents, especially in the conditions of melting permafrost due to global climate change," the organization said in a <a href="https://greenpeace.ru/news/2020/06/02/do-i-posle-avarija-na-tajmyre-v-kosmosnimkah/" target="_blank">statement.</a></p>
A European start-up uses satellite data to pinpoint individual sources of abnormal methane concentration.
- Just 100 sources of methane emit 20 megatons each year.
- Thanks to satellite data, individual culprits can now be found.
- The new tech could be used to police 'abnormal' methane emissions.
Significant contributor to global warming<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQ0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NTAyNzcxMn0.abXjEt1qcSTantp_n9inPreT0SCPI_NC2MLnUGBljls/img.jpg?width=980" id="ce493" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="57de847a9981a381ef8550b85d604497" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bNodding donkey in Midland, Texas. The oil and gas industry is a major emitter of methane." />
Nodding donkey in Midland, Texas. The oil and gas industry is a major emitter of methane.
Image: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser, public domain<p>Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas (after CO2), and its concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at around 1% each year. Because it absorbs the sun's heat even more efficiently than CO2, it's a significant contributor to global warming. </p><p>The first step to fight the rise in methane emissions is to track who's doing it. That's just become a lot easier. Paris-based tech start-up Kayrros can now find individual sources of abnormal methane emissions, all across the world. That's a first, and it's made possible by data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.</p><p>Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and launched in 2017, the British-built Sentinel-5 Precursor (<a href="https://earth.esa.int/web/guest/missions/esa-eo-missions/sentinel-5p" target="_blank">Sentinel-5P</a>) is the first satellite of the Copernicus program dedicated to monitoring air pollution, thanks to a spectrometer called <a href="http://www.tropomi.eu/" target="_blank">Tropomi </a>(short for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument).</p><p>With a resolution of about 50 km<sup>2</sup>, this Dutch-built instrument can monitor atmospheric levels of aerosols, sulphur dioxide (SO<sub>2</sub>), nitrogen dioxide (NO<sub>2</sub>), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde (CH<sub>2</sub>O), ozone (O<sub>3</sub>) and methane (CH<sub>4</sub>). <span></span></p>
High-volume methane leaks<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjQ4MDU4Mn0.eyWaywl5TPljlpaJfA6bi7vzOdBjE42r0uVf1kfQCNQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="beadd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d9064ebea1b44796ecde5892f91edfc3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bAbnormal methane concentrations in 2019 \u2013 often found in regions of the world producing or procesing oil and gas. Data provided by the Copernicus program, processed by Kayrros." />
Abnormal methane concentrations in 2019 – often found in regions of the world producing or processing oil and gas. Data provided by the Copernicus program, processed by Kayrros.
Image: Kayrros<p>You may not have heard of Tropomi yet, but it's likely you've already seen its work. Earlier this year, Copernicus Sentinel-5P produced the images that showed substantially reduced NO<sub>2</sub> levels across China, due to the coronavirus lockdown. </p><p>Tropomi also offers the most detailed monitoring of methane emissions presently available. Combining that data with other input from older-model Copernicus satellites Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, and from other sources (including ground sensors, position tracking and even social media), Kayrros scientists can identify the size, potency, and location of abnormal methane leaks around the world. </p><p>According to Kayrros, there are around <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-05-methane-emissions-global-scale.html" target="_blank">100 high-volume methane leaks</a> active around the world at any given time. Together, they release about 20 megatons of methane per year. About half of that volume is associated with mining for oil, gas or coal, or other heavy industries. Together, that amount of methane per annum is equivalent to CO<sub>2</sub> emissions of France and Germany combined.<br></p><p>So, how precise is the Kayrros method? Here's a recent case study. </p>
Plume over the Permian Basin<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTM5NjgwOH0.bXMZKKhhiQzi-7cYcwiomr7H2ohUEL-Y0HOxjRv6sZ4/img.jpg?width=980" id="90e74" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b50fe434cb6e34abdf2fccead19aafe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Kayrros<p>In December last year, Kayrros used data from Copernicus-5P to identify the source of a methane plume over the Permian Basin, which covers western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Sitting on top of a part of the Mid-Continent Oil Field, the Basin's surface is dotted with hundreds of oil wells. Yet with a little help from Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, Copernicus-5P managed to find the exact location, and the individual culprit. <br></p><p>For the first time, Kayrros tech and Copernicus-5P data make it possible to detect abnormal methane emissions in real time. Not only will this increase the precision of methane emission estimates, it will also allow regulators to find and fine the exact culprits, and if necessary, shut down their operations. </p>
Found: the culprit<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQyNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTczNTIxM30.JwY44VqYaWDEH7VtsoexxZS30Bp6Nz36prCNbFTSenY/img.jpg?width=980" id="74329" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="311f2c45db616fee626a540c4c735c8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Methane is 80 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
- Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas on the planet.
- A recent study analyzed ice core samples from the pre-industrial era to measure the extent to which industry has played a role in increasing atmospheric methane levels.
- The researchers note that their results suggest action can be taken to stem methane pollution.
Hmiel et al.<p>The results show that, prior to the Industrial Revolution, fossil methane emissions were about 1.6 to 5.4 teragrams. For context, the current estimate of total annual methane emissions is 172 to 195 teragrams. So, if the results are accurate, the implication is that human activity is almost entirely responsible for methane emissions, while natural contributors like gas seeps play a smaller role than previously thought. The results also suggest that the industry is likely <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-09/pues-cmi092019.php" target="_blank">underreporting</a> the amount of methane leaks coming from various points in the supply chain, including processing, production, and transportation.</p><p>But that's not all bad news to lead study author Benjamin Hmiel, a researcher at the University of Rochester.</p>
Fracking rig site in Oklahoma
J Pat Carter / Contributor<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I don't want to get too hopeless on this because my data does have a positive implication: Most of the methane emissions are anthropogenic (human-caused), so we have more control," Hmiel told <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/02/19/burning-fossil-fuels-emits-more-methane-climate-change-study/4798547002/" target="_blank">USA Today</a>. "If we can reduce our (methane) emissions, it's going to have more of an impact. [...] Placing stricter methane emission regulations on the fossil-fuel industry will have the potential to reduce future global warming to a larger extent than previously thought."</p><p>Methane emissions come from all sectors of the fossil fuel industry. But natural gas seems to be an especially dirty contributor, mainly because of the large amounts of gas that's lost during the production process. This leakage challenges the idea that natural gas is a relatively clean "<a href="https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2016/08/is-natural-gas-a-bridge-fuel/" target="_blank">bridge fuel</a>" that society can burn as it develops more renewable energy sources. For example, a <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6398/186" target="_blank">recent study</a> found that the methane leakage rate in the U.S. natural gas supply chain was much higher than previous estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. The implication: Natural gas comes with steep hidden costs.</p>
Reducing methane emissions<p>The good news is that methane has a relatively short atmospheric lifespan. Unlike carbon dioxide, which can linger in the atmosphere for about 200 years, methane vanishes after about a decade. Its heat-trapping power, however, makes it a serious climate threat over the short term.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's impossible to hit [the Paris agreement climate] targets with methane in the mix," Lena Höglund Isaksson, a greenhouse gas expert at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, told <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/02/super-potent-methane-in-atmosphere-oil-gas-drilling-ice-cores/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</p><p>Although reducing methane leaks in the natural gas supply chain might be difficult, many experts argue that it's one of the more inexpensive and straightforward ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond tightening regulations regarding leak monitoring and equipment surveys, a 2018 <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6398/186?rss=1" target="_blank">study</a> published in Science recommended several ways gas companies can reduce methane leaks:</p><ul><li>Install less failure-prone systems </li><li>Conduct on-site leak surveys</li><li>Re-engineer individual components and processes</li><li>Deploy sensors at individual facilities and on towers, aircraft or satellites</li></ul><div>Steven Hamburg, co-author of the study, said in a <a href="https://www.edf.org/media/new-study-finds-us-oil-and-gas-methane-emissions-are-60-percent-higher-epa-reports-0" target="_blank">statement</a>:</div><div style="margin-left: 20px;">"Scientists have uncovered a huge problem, but also an enormous opportunity. Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is the fastest, most cost-effective way we have to slow the rate of warming today, even as the larger transition to lower-carbon energy continues."</div>
Researchers believe that war exacerbates climate change, threatening the environment and making future wars more likely.
- In times of war, otherwise atrocious crimes against nature become routine.
- The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels in the world.
- By polluting the earth to prepare for war, the Pentagon prepares a world in which war becomes more likely.
The environmental costs of war<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4ODIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTA4ODk3MH0.mnCGF4zlvC6o5dfDCh1O-KwAXuWujzx8rnDQd1ulodA/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C179%2C0%2C180&height=700" id="cad84" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f847271a588090ffb98332b0cb9d3ff7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image Source: Wikimedia<p>As power struggles between nations escalate to armed conflicts and hot wars, the environment and ecosystems remain silent casualties. War radically changes the parameters for normalcy, and otherwise atrocious crimes against nature become not only justified, but viewed as necessary.</p><p>In war zones, land and natural resources are often contaminated by the oil from military vehicles and chemical weapons. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23729095" target="_blank">Depleted uranium</a> from ammunition rounds used in Iraq, for instance, left behind radiation that poisoned the soil and water in Iraq, creating a carcinogenic environment according to studies that linked the chemical residue of the weapons to increased cancer in the country. Furthermore, there's the pollution caused by <a href="https://www.abcwua.org/kirtland-fuel-spill.aspx" target="_blank">toxic fuel spills</a> that can happen at air force bases, and the oil and chemical leaks that happen when<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/06/whats-the-environmental-impact-of-modern-war" target="_blank"> infrastructure is damaged in war zones</a>. Another problem is the deliberate destruction of oil fields and military base garbage that goes up in flames <a href="https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/burn-pits/7979/" target="_blank">in burn pits</a>.</p><p>In war-zones, deforestation can be another major issue. When wars drag out for a long time, people in those regions become internally displaced and need to migrate. In those situations, people try to heat themselves during the winter, causing deforestation further facilitated by warlords. <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/crisis-high-price-deforestation-afghanistan-190703123040274.html" target="_blank">In Afghanistan</a>, cutting down timber and capturing wildlife for sale (like tigers) is encouraged by the Taliban to raise revenue for the group.</p>
Fueling an army<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="976f3ec6268fc38188c215c7e36e6948"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/udBXFFXdN7w?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>War comes with major ecological consequences in terms of greenhouse gases emitted from mobilization, training, and combat.</p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/pentagon-trying-to-reduce-fossil-fuel-climate-change-with-renewables-2019-6" target="_blank">Though it has cut back</a>, the U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels in the world, and consequently one of the world's top greenhouse gas emitters. In 2017, the Pentagon's greenhouse gas emissions totaled more than <a href="https://www.livescience.com/65698-defense-department-climate-change.html" target="_blank">59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent</a>. If it were a country, it would have carbon emissions larger than Sweden, Portugal, or Denmark.</p><a href="http://www.bu.edu/articles/2019/pov-global-warming-is-now-a-national-security-concern/" target="_blank">Buildings and fuel are the main culprits of CO2 emissions.</a> Forty percent of the greenhouse gases emitted are a result of the over 560,000 buildings and around 500 domestic and overseas military installations maintained by the Defense Department. Military operations account for the rest. For instance, in 2016 the Defense Department consumed approximately <a href="https://www.acq.osd.mil/eie/Downloads/OE/FY16%20OE%20Annual%20Report.pdf" target="_blank">86 million barrels</a> of fuel for operational purposes. According to the <a href="https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/social/environment" target="_blank">Watson Institute at Brown University</a>, the petroleum-guzzling vehicles and aircraft used by the U.S. military produces many hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide as well as CO2.
War as a climate feedback loop<p>The justification for war is often to protect citizens, but human beings aren't separate from the web of ecosystems that they are threaded within. For each violent act of war, there is an equally devastating reaction. Those ripple effects could soon be reaching U.S. shores.</p><p>According to Dr. Neta C. Crawford, Department Chair of Boston University's Department of Political Science and the co-director of the <a href="https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/" target="_blank">study group Costs of War</a>, military aggression and preparation exacerbates environmental problems that could lead to greater <a href="https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/pdf/National%20Security%20and%20the%20Threat%20of%20Climate%20Change.pdf" target="_blank">security risks</a> and more <a href="https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/media/csis/pubs/071105_ageofconsequences.pdf" target="_blank">war in the future</a> as natural resources are depleted, causing a global refugee crisis. </p><p>"The Pentagon is very worried about the stresses of climate change leading to displacement... and they're concerned about climate war," Crawford tells Big Think in an interview. "They believe that it's coming to a neighborhood near you."</p><p>The problem, she notes, is that the Pentagon is a huge emitter of greenhouse gases and perpetrator of environmental destruction that increases the probability of war. </p><p>"They're preparing a world for which the risks and consequences that they fear are more likely," says Crawford, who believes that to decrease the likelihood of climate war, the Pentagon needs to be part of a large scale turn towards clean energy and the reduction of greenhouse gases. "But they don't think that way, they just think war is coming, it will be caused by refugee crisis and fighting over resources such as fresh water, and we have to be prepared for it."</p>
The other option<p>Crawford believes that if humans can work out ways to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, and work to peacefully prevent any conflicts that are associated with increased environmental stress, war can be evaded. </p><p>"We can work out water agreements, we can negotiate prices, or we can provide, instead of a wall, to climate migrants, welcoming and care," she emphasizes. </p><p>As tensions escalate with Iran, new war would pour gasoline over an earth already engulfed in flames, increasing the chance for more armed conflict. Perhaps at no time in human history have the stakes for maintaining peace been higher.</p>
A loophole signed into law during the Bush administration has been fiendishly tough to close.
- In 2005, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was head of the Energy Task Force. This task force provided recommendations that informed the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
- One such recommendation that was later signed into law was to provide an exemption for hydraulic fracturing fluid (or fracking fluid) from being regulated by the EPA.
- Cheney previously served as CEO of Halliburton, which just so happens to be the world's largest provider of fracking services.
How does fracking work?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTYzNjQ2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzY3NDcwNn0.PXP1fciGa1rZ0o17Fk3Xj-5gjTz3GLXO4pIn0fROMI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=156%2C420%2C271%2C132&height=700" id="a02cd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6174f265a1ee5132223edea9158b5ed5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A fracking site located in the Permian Basin oil field outside the town of Midland, Texas. Photo credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images<p>The purpose of fracking is to increase the rate at which oil and gas flows to wells, and often, it's the only economical way of obtaining oil and gas reserves. It's especially used in places where the gas is widely dispersed, such as in shale or tight sands.</p><p>Fracking companies drill a deep hole in the earth, up to 20,000 feet deep. Modern fracking also involves horizontal drilling, which reduces the need for multiple vertical holes since one horizontal borehole can access more material. This hole is fitted with a steel pipe full of strategically placed perforations. High-pressure fracking fluid is shot through the pipe, splitting off along the perforations and cracking the surrounding rock. These cracks expedite the flow of oil and gas to nearby wells, enabling the collection of more resources than would otherwise be possible.</p><p>The trouble is, fracking fluid is composed of some truly nasty stuff, and a single operation can use several million gallons of it. The biggest component of fracking fluid is water, at about 90 percent. Another 9.5 percent consists of sand or a similar material called a proppant, which fills the fractures and holds them open against the weight of the earth. That last 0.5 percent of material is what's worrisome. This component is a mix of chemicals used for a variety of purposes in the fluid. It may not seem like much, but the vast quantities of fluid required for a fracking operation means that between <a href="https://earthworks.org/issues/hydraulic_fracturing_101/#CHEMICALS" target="_blank">80 and 330 tons</a> of chemicals are used each time. The most <a href="https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=33%092990" target="_blank">up-to-date review</a> of these chemicals, conducted by the EPA between 2005 and 2013, identified 1,084 different kinds of chemicals used in fracking operations, though a single operation is likely to only use between 4 and 28.</p><p>These include arsenic, formaldehyde, mercury, and other substances that have been linked to reproductive and developmental <a href="https://news.yale.edu/2016/01/06/toxins-found-fracking-fluids-and-wastewater-study-shows" target="_blank">health issues</a>, that may cause cancer, or that have <a href="https://ccst.us/wp-content/uploads/160708-sb4-vol-II-7.pdf" target="_blank">unknown effects</a> on human health [PDF]. And, of course, fracking fluids have potential effects on wildlife as well.</p><p>The industry's argument is that fracking fluids are handled in a safe manner, are recovered as much as possible, and are dispersed so deep underground that they couldn't possible leach into groundwater, which is typically closer to the surface than oil and gas deposits. The evidence, however, does not back this up.</p>