Sustained Outrage

MIT paper: Shale gas could crowd out clean energy

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There’s an important new paper out from scientists at MIT, published in the inaugural issue of a new journal, Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy. The paper is called, “The Influence of Shale Gas on U.S. Energy and Environmental Policy,” (sign-in required) and it concludes:

… The gas “revolution” has important implications for the direction and intensity of national efforts to develop and deploy low-emission technologies, like CCS for coal and gas.

With nothing more than regulatory policies of the type and stringency simulated here there is no market for these technologies, and the shale gas reduces interest even further. Under more stringent GHG targets these technologies are needed, but the shale gas delays their market role by up to two decades. Thus in the shale boom there is the risk of stunting these programs altogether. While taking advantage of this gift in the short run, treating gas a “bridge” to a low-carbon future, it is crucial not to allow the greater ease of the near-term task to erode efforts to prepare a landing at the other end of the bridge.

As explained in a National Geographic online article:

A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology used economic modeling to show that new abundant natural gas is likely to have a far more complex impact on the energy scene than is generally assumed. If climate policy continues to play out in the United States with a relatively weak set of measures to control emissions, the new gas source will lead to lower gas and electricity prices, and total energy use will be higher in 2050.

Absent the shale supply, the United States could have expected to see GHG emissions 2 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 under this relatively weak policy. But the lower gas prices under the current shale gas outlook will stimulate economic growth, leading GHG emissions to increase by 13 percent over 2005. And the shale gas will retard the growth of renewable energy’s share of electricity, and push off the development of carbon capture and storage technology, needed to meet more ambitious policy targets, by as long as two decades.

“Shale gas is a great advantage to the U.S. in the short term, for the next few decades,” said MIT economist Henry Jacoby, lead author of the new study. “But it is so attractive that it threatens other energy sources we ultimately will need.”


How many jobs would a ‘cracker’ plant create?

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin waves to the crowd Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 prior to delivering his state of the state address at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin focused attention during last night’s State of the State address on his administration’s efforts to land a “cracker” plant that would create spin-off jobs based on the boom in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale fields across West Virginia. The governor promised:

I will do everything in my power to make sure that West Virginia is positioned to take full advantage of this opportunity. I will not limit our efforts to just one project or even two. We will compete for every project — every dollar of investment and every new job that relies on the natural resources with which we have been so blessed.

Among other things, Gov. Tomblin said he plans to introduce legislation “to further refine our incentives in a fashion I believe will strengthen our competitiveness,” a proposal that the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy have already explained is based on pretty questionable math.

But the governor also made this statement in his speech:

The American Chemistry Council estimates that we could create an additional 12,000 manufacturing jobs in West Virginia with the construction of an ethane cracker.

Now, when you think of manufacturing jobs, you think of pretty darned good jobs, right? Overall, the manufacturing sector in West Virginia pays about a third more in weekly wages than the private sector as a whole.

But Gov. Tomblin got this one wrong … Take a look at this two-page summary put together to describe the calculations the American Chemistry Council did of the economic impact of locating a cracker plant in West Virginia (for that matter, take a look at this fancier one-pager put together by the council’s communications department).

Table 1 outlines the estimated ongoing (permanent) jobs that might be created if a company invests $3.2 billion in a major cracker facility here: About 12,300 total jobs. That figure includes 2,500 direct jobs, 6,300 indirect jobs and 3,500 induced jobs. As Kevin Swift, the council’s chief economist, just explained to me, that total number of jobs — the 12,000 figure the governor cited in his speech on statewide television and radio, before a joint session of the Legislature — includes all manner of jobs. It is not only direct manufacturing jobs, but positions with suppliers and support industries — everything from a waitress at a new cafe across the road from the plant to a doctor who starts a practice to serve residents in a growing community.

But they’re not all manufacturing jobs, and the ACC study doesn’t provide more detail that would give a clearer picture of how many jobs in various sectors with various levels of pay and benefits might be includes. You can get perhaps a bit more information by looking at the average wages for each category — $112,000 annually for direct jobs and $34,000 for indirect. But that’s a basic average, and may not tell the whole story.

For those who want to understand the methodology of the industry study, you might check out this more detailed analysis that looks more broadly at impacts from expansions of the chemical industry associated with the natural gas boom and any accompanying cracker plants. It’s also worth remembering that these industry-produced studies are not necessarily the most helpful source for these sorts of projections, as we’ve reported before here.

Study: Public health left out of drilling decisions

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We’ve written before about the work of an Obama administration Department of Energy panel examining drilling for natural gas in shale formations (see here and here).  And over at the Coal Tattoo blog, I’ve covered the problems with the fact that West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t really have staff with an expertise or focus on human health issues.

Now a new article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives discusses the lack of input from public health professionals in studies and regulatory actions regarding shale-gas drilling:

We review the extent to which advisory committees formed in 2011 by the US Department of Energy and the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania contain individuals with expertise pertinent to human environmental public health. We also analyze the extent to which human health issues are of concern to the public by reviewing the presentations to the public meeting of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee.

At a public hearing held by the President’s Natural Gas Subcommittee 62.7% of those not in favor of drilling mentioned health issues. Although public health is specified to be a concern in the executive orders forming these three advisory committees, we could identify no individuals with health expertise among the 52 members of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission; the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission; or the Secretary of Energy’s Natural Gas Subcommittee.

The conclusion:

Despite recognition of the environmental public health concerns related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale, neither state nor national advisory committees selected to respond to these concerns contained recognizable environmental public health expertise.

Long story of Monsanto and dioxin continues

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Five of the plaintiffs in the 1984 dioxin lawsuit against Monsanto Co. in Nitro stand outside the courtroom. Left to right: John Hein, James Ray Boggess, June Martin, Gene Thomas and Charles Farley. Each man sued Monsanto for $4 million each, alleging that exposure to chemicals at the Nitro plant threatened their lives.  After an 11-month trial, jurors awarded $200,000 to Hein, but ruled against the other workers. Gazette file photo.

Over the last few weeks, the Gazette’s Kate White and I have been covering the run-up to the big class-action lawsuit trial against Monsanto Co. over alleged contamination of the town of Nitro by the company’s former chemical-making operations there.

Jury selection began last week, after another mediation effort failed. Once a jury is picked and trial begins, jurors will be asked to award thousands of current and former residents medical monitoring to allow early detection of diseases potentially linked to dioxin exposure. Several years ago, we published a lengthy Sunday story that explains in much more detail the allegations in the lawsuit (subscription required) about how Monsanto polluted the town.

As the photo above and Sunday’s story explained, this is certainly not the first major legal action to focus on Monsanto and dioxin:

An early sign of dioxin’s effects came in March 1949. A massive explosion rocked the Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a 2,4,5-T cooking container. More than 220 workers got sick.

Years later, more than 170 workers sued Monsanto, alleging dioxin exposure at the plant had made them ill. Cases involving seven of the workers went to trial in federal court in 1984.

After an 11-month trial, a jury awarded one of the workers, John Hein, $200,000 for bladder cancer he contracted because of exposure at the plant to another chemical, para-aminobiphynol, or PAB.

Jurors found that dioxin had made the other workers sick and that Monsanto had not acted diligently in seeking to determine the possible impact of exposure on worker health.

Continue reading…

Secret meetings, Jan. 6, 2012

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This week’s issue of The State Register includes three meetings that violate the public notice requirements of the West Virginia Open Meetings Act.

The agencies at fault: The Putnam County Development Authority executive committee, the Raleigh County Public Defender Service Corp., and the Real Estate Appraisers Board.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Fatal fire at WTI reminds of waste industry dangers

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The holiday season wasn’t so happy for the families of two workers at the WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, across the river from Chester, W.Va.  A week before Christmas, a chemical fire a the facility — now officially known as Heritage-WTI Inc. — left one worker dead and another seriously burned.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said in a statement:

According to company officials a flash fire occurred when workers were splitting a large solid waste drum of hazardous flammable inorganic material into smaller storage drums … Unfortunately accidents at hazardous waste processing facilities are all too common.

The CSB investigated a major fire in 2006 at the Environmental Quality Company, a hazardous waste facility located in Apex, North Carolina, which resulted in the evacuation of thousands of residents for two days. In an April 2008 report, the board explained:

In addition to the EQ incidents, the CSB found 21 other fire and chemical release incidents9 at hazardous waste facilities in the United States in the last five years. Fourteen of the incidents involved fires and/or explosions and seven were release-only incidents. These incidents resulted in two fatalities, 16 injuries, and eight community evacuations, shelter-in-place events, or transportation disruptions.

The CSB also investigated a 2009 explosion and fire at the Veolia ES Technical Solutions L.L.C. facility in West Carrollton, Ohio. The accident occurred when flammable vapor was released from a waste recycling process, ignited, and violently exploded. The blast seriously injured two workers and damaged 20 nearby residences and five businesses.

As the board explained in a statement last week:

As a result of these two investigations, the Chemical Safety Board issued recommendations to the Environmental Technology Council (ETC), a hazardous waste industry trade group. Specifically, one of the recommendations is to petition the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a developer of U.S. fire prevention codes, to issue a standard specific to hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities. The standard would provide guidance to prevent the occurrence of fires, explosions, and releases at these types of facilities. This recommendation has still yet to be implemented.