Shale gas: more or less polluting than coal

  • 30 Aug 2013, 10:00
  • Robin Webster

Research into the extent of leakage during the fracking process could seriously dent claims that shale gas is a relatively 'clean' fossil fuel. But the evidence still isn't clear. More than two years after one study called shale gas "more polluting than coal", academics are still wrangling over the fuel's impact on the climate.

Escaping gas 

Some academics argue that gas leaks during the process of extracting shale gas from rock - known as fracking - could make the fuel far more climate-polluting than its  supporters claim. 

Natural gas releases  about half the carbon emissions that coal does when burnt. But some gas escapes into the atmosphere while wells are being built and during the fracking process itself. These so-called fugitive emissions are primarily made up of methane - which is approximately  25 times more climate-polluting than carbon dioxide over a 100-year timescale. 

Leakage occurs when gas is extracted by  conventional methods as well - but the fear is that it's a bigger problem when fracking is used to extract shale gas. American lobby group the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) published a study concluding that if more than 3.2 per cent of natural gas leaks out during the production and transportation of shale gas, then it's more polluting than coal. 


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Newslinks - 30th August • Gas imports, lobbying laws & Greenland's hidden canyon

  • 30 Aug 2013, 09:10
  • Carbon Brief staff

Sourced under creative commons

UK gas imports hit record high of 1 trillion cubic feet in first six months of 2013 
Government provisional figures released on Thursday showed a 9.3 per cent jump in gas imports in the first six months of 2013 against the same period of 2012. Most of the imports came from Norway and the Netherlands. 

Climate & energy news:

Global Warming Slowdown Data Sought in UN Climate Report 
Leaked documents show US and European envoys are seeking more data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change on the so-called hiatus in atmospheric surface temperature. They want it to be included in the panel's coming report to help counter arguments that the pause is a long-term trend. 

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Coalition lobbying bill risks suffocating climate policy debate

  • 29 Aug 2013, 12:50
  • Mat Hope

Credit: a2Gemma

A new government bill could inadvertently squeeze the life out of the UK's climate policy debate, charities are warning. The draft law is designed to stop lobbyists unfairly influencing the outcome of the coming election, but risks hitting charities hardest.

The bill could mean charities unexpectedly find themselves unable to write reports on parties' energy policies, conduct polls on which party is best placed to lead on environmental issues, or organise climate change awareness events for 12 months before the election due to a new definition of the term 'electoral activities'. The new rules could also discourage smaller, community-led charities from taking part in the debate at all.

A lot of the bill's detail is still unclear, but if it is adopted without amendment, it could be bad news for healthy climate policy debate as the election nears.

New regulations

The draft 'Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration  Bill' (to give its full title) was published in July, following allegations that business and trade union representatives were unduly influencing parliamentarians. But the proposals have been met with  outcry from  charities, who say it would affect their activities far more than the lobbyists it was supposed to curtail. That could be a problem for charities wanting to get parties to commit to climate change action in the run-up to the election.

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Newslinks - 29th August • Turbine troubles, fracking compensation & East Antarctica's glaciers

  • 29 Aug 2013, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

UN ruling puts future of UK wind farms in jeopardy 
Earlier this week a United Nations legal tribunal ruled the UK Government acted illegally by denying public participation in the process of approving new windfarms. But the windfarm industry tells BusinessGreen that it does not expect the judgement to derail windfarm projects. 
The Independent 

Climate & energy news:

BHP Billiton settles with homeowners over 'fracking damage' 
Oil giant BHP Billiton has agreed to pay compensation to homeowners in the USA who's properties were damaged by earthquakes associated with wastewater disposal wells used as part of the fracking process.
The Telegraph 

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New study: Pacific Ocean holds the key to surface warming 'hiatus'

  • 28 Aug 2013, 18:15
  • Roz Pidcock

The earth's atmosphere has warmed more slowly over the last decade or so than in previous years - and a big question in climate science right now is why.

A new paper links the so-called hiatus to natural changes in the climate, saying it's all down to what's going on in the tropical Pacific Ocean. But we should expect faster warming to make a comeback, the authors warn.

Scientists know  greenhouse gases are driving up  global temperature. But data on land and from the surface of the ocean in the last decade and a half show surface temperatures have risen somewhat  slower than expected.

According to a new paper in Nature, understanding natural changes in the Pacific Ocean is key to finding out what's causing the "hiatus" and how long it's likely to stick around.

Pause for thought

When scientists talk about  what's causing the slowdown in surface temperature rise, a couple of explanations usually come up. As the authors explain in the new paper:

"Two schools of thought exist regarding the cause of this hiatus in global warming: one suggests a slowdown in radiative forcing ... and the other considers the hiatus to be part of natural variability."

When volcanoes erupt they spit reflective particles into the atmosphere. One suggestion is that an increase in these particles together with a dip in the amount of solar energy reaching earth could be contributing to less-than-expected warming. That's what's meant by a change in radiative forcing.

But the new paper sits squarely in the second camp, saying the "hiatus" is part of natural climate variability. It's all to do with sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean cycling between warm and cool phases, the paper says.

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Where’s hot - and not: where would you rather be a wind turbine?

  • 28 Aug 2013, 13:00
  • Robin Webster

China's up; Australia's down. Over here, solar's poised to go big, while biomass is down in the dumps. Carbon Brief takes a look at the latest renewable energy listings.

Ernst & Young's  Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, released quarterly, tracks countries' attractiveness to investors in renewable energy. So what has the last three months looked like for the renewable energy sector in different parts of the world - and how does the UK measure up? We take a look at the report's verdict - and the headlines behind the trends.

Who's up, who's down internationally 


  • China supports solar: the Chinese government set a new, ambitious target for its solar industry - aiming to quadruple capacity in  just two years. Its solar support, however, is so enthusiastic that the European Union (EU) says it's  illegal under international trade laws.
  • UK gets detailed: the UK government finally released the details of financial support it will offer different  renewable technologies in the coming years. Yay.  
  • USA goes greenish: President Obama's climate action plan promises to allow another 10 gigawatts of renewable energy projects on public land by the end of this decade (although this may be a  slowdown on current growth). 

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Climate: The sun's role is important, but it's just a cameo

  • 28 Aug 2013, 10:00
  • Freya Roberts

Sourced under creative commons

Amid all the new research on how carbon emissions cause global warming, scientists haven't forgotten about the sun and its role in maintaining the temperature of earth.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Life Scientific programme yesterday, atmospheric physicist Professor  Joanna Haigh says the amount of energy given off by the sun can affect earth's temperature in small but significant way. Relative to the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, however, the sun's role in climate change is limited, she explains.

We pick out the best bits of her interview with presenter Jim al-Khalili, and look at new research which confirms that fluctuations in the sun's energy alone can't explain the accelerated warming trend seen since the 1970s

How does the sun affect climate?

Scientists know that on both long and  short time scales, the sun has an important role in controlling the earth's temperature. Putting it simply, Professor Haigh says:

"Solar radiation heats the surface of the earth - it gets through the atmosphere [...] and the surface gets hot and emits heat radiation."

So it makes sense that subtle variations in the amount of energy given off by the sun can alter the climate. For example, the sun's energy rises and falls in an 11-year cycle, as this image shows:

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Newslinks - 28th August • Greener Greenland, China's cheap solar panels & laser-controlled weather

  • 28 Aug 2013, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief staff

Sourced under creative commons

Climate change could make Greenland green by 2100 
Rising temperatures could see large areas of land opened up in Greenland as the ice sheet melts, new research suggests. As a result, tree species from North America and Europe may thrive there, altering the country's ecosystems. 
The Independent 

Climate & energy news:

EU says China guilty of giving illegal aid to solar industry 
A nine-month investigation by the European Commission has revealed the Chinese government broke World Trade Organisation rules by handing out cheap loans, interest-free credit and credit to companies producing low cost solar panels. 

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Yes, windfarms need wind to work: The danger of taking data snapshots

  • 27 Aug 2013, 14:50
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Flying Stag

There's an old parable about trying to describe a whole  elephant if all you've ever encountered is the trunk: it's unlikely you'd succeed. The same is true of windfarms' ability to produce electricity. If you've only ever seen them on still days, it would be hard to see how they could contribute to the UK's energy production.

The  Telegraph got fixated on the elephant's trunk this weekend. It claimed that at a given time, some of the UK's windfarms were only producing enough power "to make a few cups of tea". A look at the bigger picture reveals a more complex situation, however.

No wind

Windfarms produce power when it's windy, and don't when it's still. Wind's intermittent nature makes it pretty easy to find data to suggest windfarms aren't working -  it's just a case of picking the right weather conditions.

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How the Conservatives sextupled the CCC’s estimate for green power costs

  • 27 Aug 2013, 14:30
  • Robin Webster

A Labour Party commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector would add £125 to consumer energy bills by 2030, argues the Conservative Party. But the estimate relies on the assumption that the cost of wholesale electricity will remain the same - one of several factors that ensure the Conservatives' figure is six times higher than a previous analysis suggests. 

The figure appears on a new website from Conservative Party headquarters, which claims Labour's proposed policies will cost voters more in the future: 

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 At 16.43.14

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