Fracking regulations go political


Well Pads in Weld County Colorado

Google Earth view of network of well pads in Weld County, Colorado

If they weren’t already, fracking and fracking regulations are becoming more and more political.  Colorado is at the forefront of this debate due to the proximity of extraction operations and affluent communities such as Boulder, CO.  Several of these communities have voted to ban drilling operations, and setup an epic fight with the state government who says they should have control over regulations (including any bans).  But the negotiations at the state level seem to be stalled for what regulations should exist.  Why is this interesting?  It is likely that whatever model works in Colorado will be adopted by other states, as well as influence federal policy (such as rules proposed by the Bureau of Land Management).  It seems from this report that outside interests are influencing the negotiations for a solution:

“Part of the reason could be an ideological opposition to tougher regulations within the large trade associations, or their wider membership, just as large unions tend to be uncompromising about trade policy or find themselves defending all their members, no matter what, said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster.”

Not only is the American Petroleum Institute (API) involved but an intense Senate race between Udall and Gardner have focused some of their efforts on this hot button issue – clearly an attempt to get votes from their respective anti- and pro-fracking constituents.  In addition the legal fights, and the possibility of state level regulations, there are also several ballot measures (supported by Congressman Polis) that would increase setbacks (distance between operations and residences) and allow local control of fracking operations.  Gardner opposes these, and from the article linked above, it sounds like this is putting Udall in a difficult position – in the past Udall has been a strong proponent of the environment…

But Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the state GOP and now a Colorado-based Republican consultant, argued that the issue will develop as a problem for Udall as he and Gardner meet for debates and take to the campaign trail in earnest this fall.

“The fact is this kind of splits the Democratic Party down the middle,” Wadhams said. “It will drive up turnout among those folks who see fracking as a driver of the economy and the jobs. Udall is in a no-win position with those initiatives on the ballot.”

The legal battles between the state and communities will likely drag on for a while.. in the latest chapter, a judge has struck down Longmont’s ban..will the ban will stay in place while Longmont appeals..

The companies that operate in Colorado seem (in my limited opinion) to be open to regulations and are aware of the public perception issues that “fracking” has.  This opinion is mostly based on my experience with these companies at the the Natural Gas Symposiums at CSU.  We’ll see how this all plays out..

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Oil consumption in US outpaces China for #1 spot

Looks like recession is ending and leading to increased oil use in the US.. or could be just because of the shale oil boom?

Rühl said the rise in U.S. oil demand stemmed from industrial users of petrochemicals and other oil byproducts, a trend triggered more by a flood of cheap domestic oil supplies than by overall economic growth.

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2014 a big year for clean coal too

Kemper County power plant construction (from

Kemper County power plant construction

We know that 2014 is supposed to be a make-or-break year for cellulosic ethanol, with multiple new biorefineries recently or soon-to-be completed in order to fulfill RIN demand mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard.  According to a recent Bloomberg article, this year might also be a turning-point year for ‘clean coal':

Coal’s Best Hope is Costly New Power Plant in Mississippi

Coming in the wake of the proposed new EPA rules requiring a net 30% reduction in US power sector greenhouse gas emissions, the article profiles a new clean coal facility under construction by Southern Co. in Kemper County, Mississippi.  It’s the only major new coal plant currently being built in the country, and is scheduled to come online by the end of the year.  Some system highlights for the nerds out there (additional gory details available from POWER magazine):

  • will be fueled with lignite, the lowest grade of coal, from new mine established adjacent to the plant
  • the plant is an Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle (IGCC) pre-combustion CO2 capture & storage (CCS) design
    • low-quality coal is gasified to a synthetic CO-rich gas, and the water-gas shift reaction is then used to push it towards H2 & CO2
    • 65% of the CO2 is removed and piped into local oil fields at a rate of 3.5 Mt/year to enhance oil production
    • NOx/SOx precursors are scrubbed out as well, reducing final plant emissions
    • the synthetic gas is combusted in a gas turbine, and waste heat from the turbine, gasifier, and gas cleanup equipment drives an additional steam cycle
    • efficiencies for similat IGCC+CCS systems are estimated in the low 30% range
  • the capacity of ~600 MW is just a little smaller than our local Rawhide Energy Station; the mass of coal consumed by the plant every day is ~15 times more than the daily biomass consumption of the new Abengoa, Poet, or DuPont biorefineries
  • after many cost overruns the plant is on track to be one of the most expensive of its size ever constructed, with final costs coming in around $7/W, compared to about $1/W for natural gas or $5.50/W for nuclear

Us bioenergy folks should be paying particular attention to these CCS developments- the recent IPCC report strongly emphasized role of bioenergy+CCS technology (BECCS) in stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and there are already some pilot projects underway (the biggest of which is ~1/4 the size of the Kemper plant).

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US climate policy in 2008 vs. 2014

From Vox:

Obama’s climate change regulations are less ambitious than what Republicans were proposing in 2008

Makes for some very interesting & depressing reading about how much the right side of the Overton Window on this issue has moved in just the last six years.

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EcoPress guest post on basic data analysis in Python

I have a guest post up on the CSU Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory’s EcoPress blog about transitioning from doing basic data analysis in Excel to writing simple programs to do so in Python: 

It’s very basic, laying out some reasons why you might want to make such a transition, and includes some general tips for getting started and a short example script that demonstrates how to process raw DayCent model output.  Go check it out, and learn yourself some Python skillz!

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PSA- there’s no such thing as % temperature change (unless you’re working in K or R!)

Public service announcement- there is NO SUCH THING as a percent change in temperature, unless you happen to be working in absolute temperature units like Kelvin or Rankine degrees.  If you’ve using degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit, those are relative scales where values for 0 and 100 are arbitrarily pegged to physical phenomena (in the case of C to the freezing and boiling points of water, and in the case of F to the freezing point of brine and human body temperature, respectively, because English units are required to be even more stupidly arbitrary than SI units), and percent change in degrees C and degrees F will NOT be equivalent:

  • Start at 20 C (around room temperature)
    • this corresponds to [20*(9/5)]+32 = 68 F
  • Calculated a “10% temperature increase”
    • 20 C * 1.10 = 22 C
    • 68 F * 1.10 = 74.8 F
  • convert from Celsius back to Fahrenheit
    • [22*(9/5)]+32=71.6 F
  • Notice that 74.8 and 71.6 ARE NOT THE SAME
    • ZOMG!?!?

Because the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales based on differences compared to an arbitrarily-pegged zero point, it makes no sense to use them in percentages or ratios.  However, there are two equivalent temperature scales with degree units of the same size but where the zero point is set at absolute zero (as per the third law of thermodynamics) – the Kelvin scale (degrees K = degrees C +273.15) and the Rankine scale (degrees R = degrees F + 459.67).  In these units, you CAN talk about percentages and ratios and be self-consistent.  Here’s a more thorough example:

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 12.23.35 PM

Also, here‘s another discussion of the topic.  In short, if you talk about percent changes in temperatures in degrees C or F, you give the impression you have no idea what you are talking about.  This PSA is brought to you by this NBCNews article and the supplemental data section of this paper in the respected journal Environmental Research Letters (face-palm!!).


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Tracking cellulosic bioenergy targets, production, and capacity

Check out the new page on RFS2 cellulosic biofuel RIN production volumes!  The figure presented builds off previous simple analyses here and here, and will be updated periodically based on EPA EMTS numbers (which appear to be published with only a 2-3 week lag).

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