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The Climate Contradictions of Gary Smith

By Paul Atkin - Greener Jobs Alliance, September 21, 2023

In agreeing to be interviewed by the Spectator under the title the folly of Net Zero GMB General Secretary Gary Smith lets his members down; not least because remarks like these from a leading trade unionist help give Rishi Sunak encouragement to accelerate his retreat from the government’s already inadequate climate targets.

The phrase “the folly of Net Zero” makes as much sense as “the folly of getting into the lifeboats when the ship is sinking”

Difficulties in making a transition to sustainability does not mean that making it isn’t essential, and the faster we move the less damage is done. We can see that damage all around us even now. 

Gary doesn’t seem to get this, any more than Rishi Sunak does, and he latches on to some of the same lines as the PM does, albeit with a more pungent turn of phrase. To go through these point by point, quotes are either directly from Gary Smith or the Spectator.

Appalachian Economy Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Development, Report Says

By Jon Hurdle - Inside Climate News, August 23, 2023

Natural gas production in the Appalachian region of the United States has failed to produce promised increases in jobs and income since the fracking boom began there in the late 2000s, with economic stagnation likely to persist now that output of the fuel has passed its peak, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

The study from the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit research group, found that gas-producing areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia lost more than 10,000 jobs from 2008 to 2021 and that their personal income growth trailed that of the three states and the U.S. as a whole. Their population dropped by more than 46,000 during the period.

Even though gross domestic product of the 22-county region surged at four times the rate of the states overall from 2008 to 2019, little of that new wealth helped local economies because natural gas investment is mostly made in capital, not labor, and because many of the industry’s workers came from distant areas like Texas or Oklahoma where oil and gas skills were more readily available, the report said.

“GDP, which is often cited as a principal barometer of economic health, failed to produce commensurate gains in local measures of prosperity and well-being, including job, income and population growth,” it said.

Frackalachia Update: Peak Natural Gas and the Economic Implications for Appalachia

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, August 22, 2023

By the first quarter of 2020, EQT Corporation, the nation’s largest domestic producer of natural gas, was supplying more than 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Just a decade earlier, EQT’s output wasn’t even one-tenth as much and the company ranked an undistinguished 25th for output among US producers. But EQT had the good fortune and foresight to base all of its operations in Appalachia, which made it the greatest beneficiary of what turned out to be the world’s richest natural gas field. 

In those early days of 2010, when EQT was the scuffling little guy trying to find a place among giants, such as ExxonMobil, the company employed just 1,815 people. But, by 2020, when EQT’s production had surpassed that of ExxonMobil and all others, its employee count mushroomed to . . . 624.

Yes, EQT’s head count actually declined by nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2020. In fairness, some of EQT’s job reduction was attributable to its spin-off of Equitrans Midstream (EQM) in 2018. But, even if you add EQM’s 2020 head count to EQT’s, combined employment at the two companies was only 1,395 in 2020, still a quarter smaller than EQT’s workforce in 2010.

EQT’s tale of skyrocketing output accompanied by a shrinking workforce helps us understand important things about the shale gas industry. It helps explain why, as the Ohio River Valley Institute documented in 2021, the Appalachian natural gas boom failed to deliver what had been expected to be hundreds of thousands of new jobs for the region. And it demonstrates that as the natural gas industry matures, it becomes less jobs-intensive and its already meager contributions to economic development and prosperity become even fewer. The dynamic is simple. As a larger share of output comes from existing wells and fewer new ones are dug and work is completed on the construction of processing plants and pipelines, fewer workers are needed. 

Consequently, if production stagnates and the only need for new wells is to replace those that retire, the economic value of the gas industry to Appalachia may diminish even further. And if the Energy Information Administration is correct in its most recent forecast for domestic natural gas production between now and 2050, that is exactly the scenario Appalachia and its natural gas industry are facing.

According to the EIA’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2023”, Appalachian natural gas production likely peaked in 2022. Although this year’s events may prove that forecast to be incorrect in the short term, the long-term trend is clear. Production is leveling off. Indeed, data show that Appalachian production began to plateau as early as 2019. And, as this report will show, economic outcomes in the 22 counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia that are responsible for 90% of Appalachian gas production deteriorated even further since 2019, which was the last year examined in ORVI’s original study of the Appalachian natural gas boom’s economic impacts in the counties where it is concentrated – an area christened “Frackalachia.”

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

What a World Beyond Fossil Fuels Will Mean for Workers, Families, and Communities

Changing the Trade Winds: Aligning OECD Export Finance for energy with climate goals

By Nina Pušić and Claire O’Manique - Oil Change International, May 23, 2023

This new Oil Change International report shows that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries supported fossil fuel exports by an average of USD 41 billion from 2018 to 2020, almost five times more than clean energy exports. This directly contradicts internationally agreed climate goals, including the Paris Agreement objective to align financial flows with the low-carbon energy transition.

A majority of international public finance for fossil fuels is provided by OECD governed Export Credit Agencies (ECAs), with 71 percent of export financing for energy going to oil and gas.

OECD ECAs play a particularly influential role in getting large fossil infrastructure projects built. They invested in 56 percent of new hazardous liquified gas (LNG) export terminal capacity built in the last decade (providing at least USD 81 billion), helping drive the global fossil gas boom by getting these large keystone projects built. Overall, about 42 percent of all fossil fuel finance from ECAs under the OECD supported midstream infrastructure activities, such as pipelines, LNG ports, and shipping.

This new report recommends that OECD countries present an ambitious proposal to prohibit financing all oil and fossil gas projects in order to align with a 1.5ºC warming limit.

Authors of the report recommend that:

  • Australia, Norway, Turkey, Korea, and Japan, urgently sign onto the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP);
  • OECD members that have already signed onto the CEPT, including the United Kingdom and Canada, fulfill their commitment to “driv[e] multilateral negotiations in international bodies, in particular in the OECD” to align with the Paris Agreement goals and present a proposal for an OECD oil and gas export finance prohibition;
  • OECD members close the existing coal loopholes, to extend the coal-fired power prohibition to cover coal mining, transport, and associated infrastructure;
  • OECD members ensure that under the Climate Change Sector Understanding (CCSU) no favorable investment conditions are offered to any project or technology derived from fossil gas, including but not limited to blue, gray, and black hydrogen and ammonia, or projects that extend the lifetime of fossil fuel assets.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The latest on the Just Transition

By staff - Nautilus International, May 2, 2023

At the Nautilus Professional and Technical Forum in April, head of international relations Danny McGowan gave a presentation on the hot maritime topic of 2023: the Just Transition.

What this means at its heart is that workers should be treated fairly in the move towards greener shipping. Nautilus is part of the international Maritime Just Transition Task Force, which recently commissioned a report by the DNV classification society to seek insights into the seafarer training and skills needed to support a decarbonised shipping industry.

The DNV report focuses on the four 'alternative' energy sources that are closest to widespread adoption: LNG and LPG, hydrogen, methanol and ammonia.

The concept of Just Transition means that if some of these alternatives are implemented, there should be a health and safety first approach, with strict rules about handling dangerous new fuels like ammonia and human-centred design for new vessels and new technologies onboard.

It also means that training should be standardised, should be provided at no cost to existing seafarers and not-for-profit for new seafarers.

The DNV report is helping to bring clarity on the uptake of alternative fuel options and the trajectory of decarbonisation, so that the industry can plan for the transformation of the maritime workforce.

Another document that contributes to this process is the Maritime Just Transition Task Force's 10 Point Plan, which establishes Just Transition principles such as global labour standards, gender and diversity and health and safety.

Mitigating Methane in Texas: Reducing Emissions, Creating Jobs, and Raising Standards

By Greg Cumpton, PhD and Christopher Agbo - Ray Marshall Center and Texas Climate Jobs Project, May 2023

A new report from the Texas Climate Jobs Project and the Ray Marshall Center at the University of Texas, Austin, suggests that efforts for preventing and plugging methane leaks from oil and gas operations could result in the creation of thousands of jobs throughout Texas.

Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) recent methane reduction rule and a new methane fee under the Inflation Reduction Act, the oil and gas industry is expected to be hard hit, potentially resulting in the loss of untold jobs in oil and gas producing regions, notably in the Permian Basin, where nearly 40% of all oil production in the U.S. and nearly 15% of its natural gas production occurs.

However, the report suggests that an estimated 19,000 to 35,000 jobs could be created in Texas alone to mitigate such leaks. Specifically, the report suggests a significant workforce would need to be created to measure and detect methane leaks, decommission orphaned wells, replace components that leak gas, install flare systems in storage tanks, plug abandoned wells and more.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Certified Disaster: How Project Canary and Gas Certification Are Misleading Markets and Governments

By Collin Rees, Allie Rosenbluth, Valentina Stackl, et. al - Oil Change International, April 2023

This report examines the gas certification market, specifically one of the current industry leaders, Project Canary. We raise serious concerns about the integrity of gas certification and so-called “Responsibly Sourced Gas” (RSG). Our investigation, which included field observations of oil and gas wells in Colorado monitored by Project Canarya, exposed significant shortcomings in its operations and claims.

  • Project Canary monitors consistently fail to detect pollution events: Earthworks’ trained oil and gas thermographers captured alarming evidence of Project Canary monitors failing to detect emissions in the field. The seven-month survey found that Continuous Emissions Monitors (CEMs)b failed to capture every significant pollution event detected with Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) cameras. Our observations suggest that the company is misrepresenting the capabilities of its technology – a concern echoed in the testimony we gathered from several industry experts – and the underlying data behind certified gas.
  • Greenwashing: Project Canary’s marketing aggressively positions its certification services as a conduit to a ‘net zero’ emissions world. Its CEO has openly discussed fixing the gas industry’s “brand problem.” In doing so, the company appears to be aligning itself with gas industry lobbyists and pushing the concept of ‘net zero’ to new levels of incredulity, which risks sabotaging rather than serving global climate goals. The company is pushing a false narrative that methane gas is an energy source compatible with climate goals as long as it is certified as being produced below a certain methane threshold.
  • Lack of Transparency: Despite claims of ‘radical transparency’ and third-party verification, there is limited access for regulators, academics, or the public to the data generated by the certification process. Given the evidence that monitoring may not be reliable, there is clear justification for greater scrutiny from regulators, scientists, and concerned citizens.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Evidence suggests that a key Project Canary DIrector and Advisory Board Members have direct financial interests in the same gas companies it certifies.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

New Bigger Risks Await Poorly Regulated Rail Industry

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog, March 31, 2023

In July of 2013, a train carrying Bakken oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying the downtown. I spent the five years after that accident researching what happened, following the railroad regulatory process that spans the U.S.-Canada border, and publishing a book about that experience. The main lesson of that book was that the regulatory process in America is deeply flawed and controlled by industry — both rail and oil interests. 

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Lac-Mégantic, the disaster in East Palestine shows just how little was done to protect the public from these dangerous trains. Meanwhile, the public is facing new rail risks that are receiving scant attention — and once again federal regulators are allowing industry to move forward without proper consideration of the health and safety risks. I live three blocks from a busy rail line and what worries me the most when I hear the trains rumble past is not that they’re carrying vinyl chloride or even Bakken oil, but the looming risk of mile-long trains of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and hydrogen. 

In 2019, then-President Trump issued an executive order to fast-track new regulations that would allow shipping liquefied natural gas by rail without any meaningful guardrails on its transport. 

But Earthjustice and other organizations sued the administration over this move, citing the perils. “It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” according to Earthjustice attorney Jordan Luebkemann. 

Modeling by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) estimates that for a train pulling 100 tank cars of LNG and traveling at 40 miles per hour, a derailment is expected to cause four punctures in the tank cars. 

The Biden administration is reviewing this Trump-era regulation, but the only sensible option is to ban the movement of LNG-by-rail. 

Over the last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upset global energy markets, giving a big boost to plans to increase exports of American LNG overseas and placing pressure to move as much LNG as possible as quickly as possible — including by rail.

As Oil Companies Stay Lean, Workers Move to Renewable Energy

By Clifford Krauss - New York Times, February 27, 2023

Solar, wind, geothermal, battery and other alternative-energy businesses are adding workers from fossil fuel companies, where employment has fallen.

Emma McConville was thrilled when she landed a job as a geologist at Exxon Mobil in 2017. She was assigned to work on one of the company’s most exciting and lucrative projects, a giant oil field off Guyana.

But after oil prices collapsed during the pandemic, she was laid off on a video call at the end of 2020. “I probably blacked out halfway,” Ms. McConville recalled.

Her shock was short-lived. Just four months later, she landed a job with Fervo, a young Houston company that aims to tap geothermal energy under the Earth’s surface. Today she manages the design of two Fervo projects in Nevada and Utah, and earns more than she did at Exxon.

“Covid allowed me to pivot,” she said. “Covid was an impetus for renewables, not just for me but for many of my colleagues.”

Oil and gas companies laid off roughly 160,000 workers in 2020, and they maintained tight budgets and hired cautiously over the last two years. But many renewable businesses expanded rapidly after the early shock of the pandemic faded, snapping up geologists, engineers and other workers from the likes of Exxon and Chevron. Half of Fervo’s 38 employees come from fossil fuel companies, including BP, Hess and Chesapeake Energy.

Executives and workers in energy hubs in Houston, Dallas and other places say steady streams of people are moving from fossil fuel to renewable energy jobs. It’s hard to track such movements in employment statistics, but the overall numbers suggest such career moves are becoming more common. Oil, gas and coal employment has not recovered to its prepandemic levels. But the number of jobs in renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal and battery businesses, is rising.

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