Analysis

Low-frequency noise study did not test for hearing damage or windfarm impacts

  • 01 Oct 2014, 13:45
  • Simon Evans

Wind turbines | Shutterstock

Living close to a windfarm could damage your hearing, according to articles in today's Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail and Express.

The Express said "Turbine buzz 'is deafening'" and said scientists were warning that noise from windfarms might lead to deafness. The Telegraph took a similar line, beginning "Living close to wind farms may lead to severe hearing damage or even deafness".

However, the research involved did not measure deafness, did not mimic wind turbines and did not show that windfarms cause hearing damage, according to the lead author of the study.

Drexl says the idea that he had shown wind turbine noise "is deafening" is incorrect.

"It's definitely not what we're saying in the paper. You cannot make this claim. It is not substantiated at the moment because we haven't shown whether low frequency sound is causing any damage to the inner ear. I also don't know of any cases of deafness being reported by people living near wind turbines."

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Shale gas drilling rules to be eased despite overwhelming opposition

  • 26 Sep 2014, 13:45
  • Simon Evans

No trespass | Shutterstock

Fracking firms could benefit by up to £105 million a year from a legal change that is being pushed through despite overwhelming public opposition.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has long had plans to change the law so that drilling for shale gas deep under peoples' properties is no longer considered trespass.

Yesterday DECC said it would go ahead with the change. That's despite the opposition of 99 per cent of the 40,647 people that responded to a public consultation on the plans.

Trespass no more

To extract shale gas from deep under the UK, firms plan to drill into shale rocks and then split them apart with high-pressure water, chemicals and sand. This takes place at depths at least several hundred meters below the surface.

Under current law, drilling fracking wells under peoples' homes constitutes trespass. This would not prevent fracking from taking place. But it would entail a potentially lengthy legal process that would be expected to lead to compensation for landowners. Case law suggests this compensation would be relatively minimal.

The government held a public consultation until mid-August on plans to change the law to speed up the process. It would formalise a standard compensation package for communities affected by drilling.

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UK and Germany balk at coal exit plea

  • 19 Sep 2014, 16:25
  • Simon Evans

Lignite mine | Shutterstock

Earlier this week a major global report explained how the world could tackle climate change while growing the economy, at no extra cost.

One of its top recommendations was for rich countries to get out of coal as quickly as possible. It said these countries should immediately promise to stop building new coal plants and to accelerate the closure of old power stations.

That sounds like a pretty simple ask. So are the EU's major coal users like the UK and Germany up for an accelerated coal phase-out? Not exactly, it turns out.

Cut coal for growth and climate

The coal exit plea comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate's New Climate Economy report. The UK government and others set up the commission to investigate whether the global economy could continue to grow while tackling the risks of climate change.

The report finds that most of the emissions cuts required to avoid dangerous warming could be made at no additional cost to the economy, if there is "strong and broad implementation" of its ten point plan. The findings were backed by UK climate secretary Ed Davey.

The report puts special emphasis on reducing coal emissions. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and is responsible for three-quarters of all power sector emissions despite only providing two-fifths of power. So getting out of coal is an "essential feature" of climate action, the report says, and it is "critical" to limit further coal expansion.

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Scotland decides: What independence could mean for the country’s climate and energy policies

  • 17 Sep 2014, 14:10
  • Simon Evans & Mat Hope

Scotland flag | Shutterstock

Scotland's voters are set to decide whether the country will separate from the rest of the UK.

Here's our guide to what independence might mean for the country's climate and energy policies.

Scotland would get the lion's share of North Sea oil and gas tax revenues, but might have to forego some of it to keep the sector going

One of the  largest economic prizes at stake in the referendum is North Sea oil and gas.

The Scottish government says Scotland would have a right to 90 per cent of future North sea oil and gas tax revenues. The UK government says it's more like  73-88 per cent.

The split largely depends on where the maritime border  would be drawn. The final boundary would have to be negotiated between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 At 11.52.55Source: HM Government " Scotland analysis: Borders and citizenship"

It also depends on how much oil is worth in future and how much it costs to extract. In 2012/13 an 84 per cent share of North sea tax revenues was worth £5.6 billion. But future revenues are  highly uncertain.

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Behind the headlines: Fracking and water contamination

  • 16 Sep 2014, 15:45
  • Simon Evans

Fracking rally | Shutterstock

There are fears that hydraulic fracturing used to extract shale gas could be behind water contamination in the US. These fears have been a touchstone of anti-fracking protests around the world.

New research that's attracted a lot of media interest today seems to put paid to those concerns, finding faulty well casings are to blame instead.

But depending on which headline you read, you might have come away with a different impression. So what's really going on?

Contradictory coverage

The new study looked at drinking water samples from 133 wells in the Marcellus and Barnett shale areas of the US. The researchers wanted to know why these wells contained higher than usual levels of hydrocarbons like methane. Was the contamination caused by nearby fracking or was it naturally present in the water? 

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Are we about to pay for high-carbon power plants we don’t need?

  • 12 Sep 2014, 15:50
  • Simon Evans

Electric meter dials | Shutterstock

The UK's households could end up paying for expensive new power stations which are not actually needed, according to a committee of MPs.

They are concerned about the government's approach to the UK's shrinking electricity supplies. They say its capacity market plans risk locking in unnecessary high-carbon generation, potentially adding £359 million to energy bills and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

We've delved into the government's historical electricity data to show how the UK's electricity use has changed, why the government thinks a capacity market is needed and why the MPs say it's got things wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 At 15.36.22

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If energy efficiency is so great, why aren’t we doing more of it?

  • 09 Sep 2014, 16:30
  • Simon Evans

Facade insulation | Shutterstock

Forever the Cinderella of climate and energy policy, two reports published this week say we should remember to invite energy efficiency to the ball.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says investing in efficiency can boost growth, jobs, health, government budgets, industrial productivity - and those are just the benefits backed by robust analysis. Meanwhile left-leaning thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says efficiency could reduce EU reliance on Russian gas.

It's an impressive list of benefits. So what's going wrong?

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Scottish Independence: How would we divide up our oil, wind and gas?

  • 08 Sep 2014, 16:30
  • Simon Evans

Hadrian's wall | Shutterstock

The build up to the 18 September Scottish independence referendum has now officially reached fever pitch. With polling suggesting a vote for independence is a real possibility, the question of how the union might be divided has taken on a new significance.

Scotland and the rest of the UK are closely interdependent for energy infrastructure and fossil fuel resource. So how would the UK divide up its oil, wind and gas resources with an independent Scotland, and what would it mean for each of the new nations' efforts to decarbonise?

North Sea oil and gas

The largest energy prize in economic terms is North Sea oil and gas. Some 40 billion barrels have been extracted so far and anything from 2 to 24 billion barrels remain, depending who you ask.

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Global carbon intensity is falling - but not quickly enough to avoid worst impacts of climate change

  • 08 Sep 2014, 14:55
  • Mat Hope

Chimneys | Shutterstock

World leaders are set to meet in New York in two weeks time to discuss how best to address global climate change. High on the agenda will be working out how to wean countries off cheap fossil fuels while keeping their economies afloat.

A new  report by consultancy PwC shows that for all the  politicians' promises , the global economy is still far from being "green". Current efforts to incentivise cleaner economic growth are falling short of those needed to avoid dangerous global warming, it says.

Emissions 'cuts'

Global carbon intensity - annual emissions divided by GDP - has  fallen by 1.2 per cent, the report shows. But that somewhat masks what's actually happening to global emissions.

Carbon intensity is a measure of how efficiently countries use their polluting energy resources, such as coal, oil and gas.

So long as a country's energy sector emissions grow at a slower rate than its GDP, the carbon intensity of its economy falls. But although some countries are ramping up renewables, many still rely on burning large amounts of fossil fuels to drive economic growth.

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Why undersea fracking is unlikely to give Scotland a £600 billion windfall

  • 05 Sep 2014, 13:30
  • Mat Hope

Scotland flag waving | Shutterstock

As Scotland prepares to decide whether to vote 'yes' for independence, the North Sea oil and gas industry's economic prospects have become something of a political football.

Today, a new report backed by the 'Yes' campaign claims the industry's taxes could be worth over £600 billion. But other experts have been quick to cast doubt on the findings.

Geologists think there's still plenty of oil and gas under the North Sea. The problem is that companies have extracted most of the easy-to-reach resources. Uncertainty around the fate of the remaining oil and gas has created space for speculation over how much the industry is worth.

That's where today's  report from consultancy N-56, founded by  a Yes campaign board member, fits in. It claims there could be around 45 billion barrels of oil and gas remaining - almost double previous estimates - worth £665 billion in tax receipts.

Conventional oil and gas

The North Sea's oil and gas reserves are becoming depleted, with companies extracting fewer and fewer barrels each year. Experts believe the industry could persist for  a few more decades, but only if companies are willing to explore hard to reach spots.

Whether they will - or even can - access such resources is very open to debate, however.

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