The Incompatible Trends Before Us: The concurrent increase in weather extremes and new fossil fuel projects
As I ponder the dramatic media warnings of yet another imminent, record-setting storm (“Crushing, Cruising Snowstorm to Plaster the Northeast,” per today’s accuweather.com), I am reminded of the old parable used in teaching children about safety:
The curious child will only touch a burning hot stove once.
Too bad we aren’t applying such logic to climate change. There is a bizarre, incompatible set of trends occurring before our very eyes. At the very time we are witnessing:
- stunning increases in both the quantity and quality of record-setting weather extremes,
- significant, rapid alterations in the Earth’s vital eco-systems,
- unprecedented worldwide scientific consensus linking man-made greenhouse gas emission activity to these very changes, with the understanding that reducing our fossil fuel emissions is a necessity to mitigate against these changes
…we are still moving forward with new, massive fossil fuel projects in the United States and around the world.
The following is a short list of new fossil-fuel projects currently underway or under consideration in the United States:
NEW OIL PROJECTS:
- Keystone XL Pipeline: A 2,000 mile pipeline carrying Bitumen – an even dirtier form of oil than conventional crude – from Alberta Canada to Gulf Coast of Texas. Maximum capacity 900,000 bb/d. Estimated operations in 2012/2013. Operated by TransCanada (Calgary).
- Wrangler Pipeline: a new 800-km, 36-inch-diameter pipeline for crude oil transport between Cushing Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. Transport capacity: 800,000 bbl/d. In service by mid-2012. Partnership between Enterprise Products (Houston) and Enbridge (Calgary).
- Parkway Pipeline : 219 km for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel transport from Norco, Louisiana to Collins Mississippi, transporting up to 200,000 bb/d for major markets in SE US. Joint venture between Kinder Morgan (Houston) and Valero Energy (San Antonio). Expected to be in service by mid-2013.
- Pettus/Chorpus Christi Pipeline: 99 km, 20 inch diameter crude oil pipeline to transport 250,000 bb/d to Gulf Coast markets. Operated by: Koch Pipeline Company (Wichita).
- BP Gulf of Mexico Off-Shore Drilling: This is not a typo – President Obama recently approved a new permit to BP – the same company currently under indictment for safety and environmental violations related to the Deepwater Horizon accident two years ago.
NEW NATURAL GAS PROJECTS (a significant greenhouse gas contributor despite industry claims). This list could go on for days. Here are just two:
- “Sunrise” Pipeline Expansion (Pennsylvania and West Virginia): A 71 km, new pipeline system, operated by Equitrans (Pittsburgh), which expands on existing pipelines in the Marcellus Shale, and will transport additional gas from West Virginia to Pennsylvania. To be operational by summer 2012.
- New Jersey-NY Pipeline Expansion Project: would transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York City through an underground pipeline through the Hudson river, entering Manhattan in the west Village – one of the most densely populated areas in the United States. The pipeline will carry 800 million cubic feet per day of gas to markets in New York and New Jersey. Completion Date: November 2013. Owner: Spectra Energy (Houston) .
Fossil fuel expansion projects, it must be noted, are hardly limited to the United States. These are just four of many outside the U.S.:
- Northern Gateway Pipeline (Canada): A new, 1,177 KM pipeline for transporting crude oil from the vast Alberta reserves to Canada’s Pacific marine terminals in British Columbia. The pipeline will carry up to 525,000 bbl/d – for export to pacific rim markets. Operated by Enbridge.
- Exxon/Rosneft Offshore Partnership: Offshore drilling partnership between Exxon Mobil and Russian oil company Rosneft to develop untapped hydrocarbon deposits, jointly, in the Russian Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Purpe-Samotlor Pipeline (Russia): A new, 430 km pipeline to China and east Siberia/Pacific markets, designed to carry 25 million tones of crude per year (500,000 bb/d). Operated by Roseneft and Transneft.
- Last – but certainly not least: The “Prelude” off-shore natural gas project (Australia): A historic leap “ahead” for the natural gas industry. This project, with notable lack of media attention, takes the form of the largest floating vessel — of any kind ever constructed. It’s the first-ever floating natural liquid gas refinery, off the coast of Australia. Operated by Royal Dutch Shell, it will produce an estimated 5 million tones, annually, of liquefied natural and petroleum gas. The facility is expected to be operational in 2016.
This list could go on for many page: The Middle East, Africa, and Asia all have substantial new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline (pun intended).
Nobody – however informed or motivated by long-term, sensible environmental concerns — should stand aghast at such clear apathy towards the well-being of our future generations. Chevron reported earnings of $7.8 billion for the third quarter of 2011 – more than twice it’s earning in the equivalent quarter last year. Shell’s profits more than doubled as well, earning $7 billion in the third quarter. BP’s approximately doubled. Similar growth was recorded by Exxon, Occidental and other fossil-fuel industries.
Such economic growth is related to increased production and that’s exactly what is happening: Occidental reported daily worldwide oil and gas production at 739,000 barrels per day in the third quarter – up from 706,000 bb/d a year ago.
Hence the trend for more pipelines, more fracking, more off-shore drilling. “Burn baby, burn” is really all about “Earn baby, Earn.”
However inescapable the “laws” of economics may be for some, there is indeed another law which, without question, is even more intractable: The laws of Mother Nature.
Chemistry and Physics won’t care about fossil-fuel company earnings. There will be no compromise with big oil due to ‘market realities’.
We know that the Earth’s climate system is changing “in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases” (IPCC, 2007) and that “the potential risks are serious and actions are required to mitigate climate change” (National Research Council, 2010).
Those actions are simple: the reduction and elimination of man-made greenhouse emissions.
As the northeast navigates through another record-setting storm (snowstorm in October?), and as the Midwest, South, and Western US reflect on the massive droughts, wildfires, and flooding of the past year, we should take a moment and see what’s happening:
Fossil fuels march on.
Stick your finger on the stove again, Johnny.
Don Lieber’s investigative journalism and research has been published by the United Nations, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Coalition to Ban the Use of Child Soldiers, and others. He blogs regularly on environmental issues. Based in New York City, Don is also a professional musician.
Prelude photo via offshoretechnology.com