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EPA finalizes rules to reduce methane leakage

High Country News | Posted on May 22, 2016

Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever rule targeting methane leaks from oil and gas infrastructure. Environmentalists lauded its potential to keep the greenhouse gas, which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, out of the atmosphere. Yet the rule had flaws: It did not apply to existing wells and facilities, or to low-producing wells, and therefore did little to address methane plumes emanating from areas with a history of production, such as the hot spot over the Four Corners region. 
On May 12, the EPA finalized the rule, nixing the exemption for low-producing wells, increasing the frequency of leak detection and otherwise tightening up last year’s proposal. The new regulations should keep some 11 million tons of methane out of the air by 2025, and also lay the groundwork for extending regulation to existing wells and infrastructure.


What the West’s trees tell us

High COuntry News | Posted on May 20, 2016

How can biomass and carbon data help us mitigate the effects of human activity?  Every tree tells part of the story of Earth and its atmosphere, from the planet’s available carbon and oxygen to its soil and water health. Tree height and forest undergrowth help scientists study biodiversity and predict wildfires, while the location and density of growth are linked to hydrology and erosion in mountainous regions. Scientists have long studied these patterns, but until five years ago, there was no comprehensive way to keep track of them. Instead, scientific understanding was piecemeal and regional. In 2011, Wayne Walker and Josef Kellndorfer from the Woods Hole Research Center mapped every forest in the United States, along with its biomass and the carbon it stores, using satellite and ground data collected by the U.S. Forest Service, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey from 1999 to 2002, to create a forest biomass map in more precise detail than any other made. The darker the spot, the denser, taller and more robust the forests are. Predictable trends emerge: The rich forests of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California are obvious, for example. But there were also surprising insights, like the grid-like patterns created by human development in other Western forests. The map is already helping public-lands agencies and academics study and manage forest restoration, but researchers are working to update it: Western forests are changing rapidly due to logging, climate change and tree disease. “It’s more valuable to understand how the forest is changing over time, in terms of ability to store carbon,” Walker says. For now, land managers rely on these pixelated swaths of green as their baseline for understanding our country’s forests and their future.  


EPA releases renewable fuel volume requirements

Farm & Ranch | Posted on May 19, 2016

The EPA today proposed volume requirements that are lower than statutory targets for cellulosic biofuel, advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel, however they are increases from 2016 requirements.

Cellulosic biofuel renewable fuel volume increases from 230 million gallons in 2016 to a proposed 312 million gallons in 2017. In statue, it’s set at 5.5. Advanced biofuel increases from 3.61 billion gallons to a proposed 4 billion gallons. Total renewable fuel increases from 18.11 billion gallons to a proposed 18.8 billion gallons. Biomass-based biodiesel was set at 1.9 billion gallons in 2016 and 2 billion gallons in 2017. It is proposed to increase to 2.1 billion gallons in 2018. The period for public input and comment will open until July 11. 


Humans have been causing earthquakes in Texas since the 1920s

Science News | Posted on May 19, 2016

Earthquakes triggered by human activity have been happening in Texas since at least 1925, and they have been widespread throughout the state ever since, according to a new historical review of the evidence. The earthquakes are caused by oil and gas operations, but the specific production techniques behind these quakes have differed over the decades, according to Cliff Frohlich, the study's lead author and senior research scientist and associate director at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. Frohlich said the evidence presented in the SRL paper should lay to rest the idea that there is no substantial proof for human-caused earthquakes in Texas, as some state officials have claimed as recently as 2015.


Ethanol groups criticize bill to limit ethanol to 9.7 percent

Ethanol Producer Magazine | Posted on May 16, 2016

A bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that aims to limit the total volume of ethanol contained in transportation fuel to 9.7 percent. Members of the ethanol industry have spoken out to criticize the legislation.

The bill, titled the “Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act of 2016,” or H.R. 5180, was introduced by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas. To date, Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; Cedric L. Richmond, D-La.; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; and Steve Womack, R-Ark., have signed on to cosponsor the measure. Following its introduction, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce


Cruz aims to declaw energy security hawks with appropriations amendment

Biofuels Digest | Posted on May 16, 2016

In Washington, news arrived from Advanced Biofuels USA that the “Defense Department Budget put together by Republican leadership would stop the US Navy from buying biofuels for the Fleet. This would end the “Great Green Fleet” and related projected that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has heroically pushed despite great opposition.” “The Cruz amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA could be more damaging than this Section 8132,” a Washington source told The Digest, referring to a proposed amendment offered by to the National Defense Authorization Act by defeated Presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, joined lately in the effort by James Inhofe of Oklahoma. That proposed amendment would add any financial contributions from a Federal agency other than the Department of Defense, including the Commodity Credit Corporation under the Department of Agriculture, for the purpose of reducing the total price of the fuel,” after “commodity price of the fuel” — when it comes to calculating the full burdened cost of drop-in fuels.


Wind on the Rise, Coal on the Wane

Institute for Energy Economics | Posted on May 16, 2016

A State by STate Snapshot

As coal dependence falters in the U.S., wind-powered electricity generation is on the rise. In less than a decade, the mix of fuels used for generating electricity has gone a major shift.

The two maps below show where the changes are most marked.  Twelve states, most of them in the wind-rich Great Plains or the upper Midwest, are getting more than 10 percent of their power now from wind, a threshold first passed by Iowa in 2009. Last year, two states—Iowa and South Dakota—generated more than 25 percent of their electricity from wind. On some days in some of the areas highlighted here, almost 50 percent of electricity demand is being met by wind.

This transition has happened quickly. In Texas, for instance, the country’s largest electricity market, wind’s share of generation jumped from 2.4 percent in 2007 to 11 percent last year.


Rules meant to boost renewable energy could backfire

VT Digger | Posted on May 15, 2016

A popular subsidy program for renewable energy is undergoing rule changes overseen by the Public Service Board. Much of the opposition to the proposed rules concerns what are called renewable energy credits, which are legal instruments that convey title to the renewable attributes of energy from sources such as solar and wind.

The widespread sale of these credits, which are produced every time a renewable energy source creates a megawatt-hour of electricity, means that almost none of the energy consumed in Vermont qualifies as solar- or wind-generated. Most of the credits currently get sold to Massachusetts and Connecticut utilities, which use them to meet minimum requirements on the amount of renewable energy they must purchase. Academics and industry professionals say this results in Vermont’s renewable energy development satisfying other states’ energy goals, while leaving Vermont to power itself mostly from the nuclear and fossil-fuel energy supplying much of New England’s electric grid.


North Dakota's top oil county wants state inspectors on the home front

Bismarck Tribune | Posted on May 13, 2016

Leaders in North Dakota’s top oil producing county pushed state health officials to consider stationing inspectors in Watford City to more closely monitor the oil and gas industry. A landfill in McKenzie County is the first to apply to the state to accept waste with radioactivity levels up to 50 picocuries per gram. McKenzie County leaders questioned how much state oversight there would be if the landfill gets approved for accepting the higher level of radioactivity.


Community solar systems popping up across rural America

Agri-Pulse | Posted on May 13, 2016

More and more people are going solar even if they don't own a home, don't have a sunny rooftop, can't afford to buy their own rooftop system, or simply don't want the fuss of installing and operating their own system.  Led by rural electric co-ops responding to their members, what's changed is the arrival of community solar, also known as “shared solar” or “solar gardens” or even “SolarCondo” ownership.

The Clean Energy Collective helped launch this new own or lease option with a community-owned solar array near El Jebel, Colorado in 2010. Now CEC has developed more than 90 community solar facilities shared by individual households and businesses which each receive credits on their monthly electricity bills for their share of the electric power generated and delivered to the grid. CEC has partnered with 28 utilities in 12 states to create these projects.


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