Study: Thinning Forests for Bioenergy Can Worsen Climate

 

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"529","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"width: 333px; height: 344px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"465"}}]]A new study out of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon concludes that selectively logging or “thinning” forests for bioenergy can increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.

The study, “Thinning Combined With Biomass Energy Production May Increase, Rather Than Reduce, Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” by D.A. DellaSala and M. Koopman, challenges bioenergy and timber industry assertions that logging forests will aid in the fight against climate change.

DellaSala and Koopman also refute assumptions that wildfires are bigger or more severe than in the past, citing multiple studies showing that the occurrence of wildfire has actually “changed little from historical (early European settlement) times.”

The Western Governor’s Association has stated that 10.6 million acres of western forests are available for “hazardous fuel reduction.” Yet, instead of instead of the build up of “fuel” (aka small trees and understory plants) being the main driver of large wildfire, the study authors blame climate, namely drought and high temperatures, explaining that, “during severe weather events, even thinned sites will burn.”

Instead of preventing large wildfires, the study argues that thinning can increase the chance of severe fire by opening the forest canopy which can dry out the forest, leaving flammable slash piles on the ground, and allowing winds to penetrate the previously sheltered stands, potentially spreading wildfire. Post-fire “salvage” logging is also thought to increase the risk of a re-burn.  

Carbon emissions from wildfire have long been an argument to log forests, in an effort to harness energy from trees that may burn at some point anyway. Yet findings show that after a fire the majority of the carbon remains in dead trees, with severe fires that kill most trees in the area emitting 5-30% of stored carbon. Severe fires account for 12-14% of the area burned in large fires. 

Even in the cases where thinning would be effective at stopping wildfire--typically small fires of limited threat to public safety--the study cites computer simulations estimating a 5-8% chance of a thinned parcel experiencing fire within the first twenty years, when fuels are lowest. The chance of encountering severe fire is 2%.

DellaSala and Koopman also urge an accurate carbon accounting of forest bioenergy, cautioning that the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning woody biomass is “often comparable to coal and much larger than that of oil and natural gas due to inefficiencies in burning wood for fuel compared to more energy- dense fossil fuels.”

In the rare cases in which a thinned forest is allowed to grow back without repeated logging, the several decades over which forests could reabsorb carbon “conflicts with current policy imperatives requiring drastic cuts in emissions over the near term.”

The study warns about “large-scale clearing of forests” at a time when natural forests are needed to buffer the planet against runaway climate change.  

"Woody biomass," said DellaSalla in a December 17 phone interview, "almost never pencils out as an efficient renewable energy source."  

Water Abuse in the Fracking Process

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"509","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"384","style":"width: 263px; height: 384px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"263"}}]]Water is used in shale gas development from cradle to grave, however, most people don't think about it beyond the issues of groundwater contamination.

Procuring and bringing raw materials like silica sand, steel, cement, and fracking chemicals to the well locations requires an incredible amount of manufacturing, transportation, and plant fuel, which are water intensive fuels to produce.
 
Each well requires 5-9 million gallons of water to be fracked. Water is also used to create oil-based drilling muds that are injected downhole when the well is first drilled to lubricate the drill bit. For pipelines, the most prevalent way infrastructure is tested for integrity is hydrostatic testing, where water is used to pressurize the lines and test for leaks.
 
Water withdrawals are approved by states and in some cases by federal river commissions. Because the water is combined with fracking fluid, sand, chemicals, and underground contaminants, much of it never returns to the water cycle. In fact, between 50 to 80 percent of the water used in fracking remains deep underground, forever entombed.

In 2012, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, comprised of governors' representatives from PA, MD, and New York, as well as the White House, approved a three million gallon per day water withdrawal in Jersey Shore, PA that required the removal and relocation of 32 mobile home resident families.

Drought conditions in Texas' Barnett Shale and California's Monterrey Shale regions force residential, commercial, and agricultural consumers to compete with the needs of fracking companies.

If well casings fail or fissures communicate with groundwater supplies, contamination of rural landowners' drinking water can occur. In 2009, 18 water supplies in Dimock, Pennsylvania were found by the Pennsylvania DEP to have been contaminated by drilling mud, fracking chemicals, and methane. Three remaining families are suing the driller, Cabot Oil & Gas, for damages and are going to federal jury trial this November with the support of Energy Justice Network.
 
Waste streams from the drilling create water contamination issues. Increasingly, the industry brags about "recycling" water, or "beneficial reuse," which entails filtering the drilling mud and fracking waste through an accordion press, similar to cheesecloth, to remove the solids. This allows the remaining liquid to be reused with more water in future frack jobs. What the industry doesn't tell you is that the solids are sent to municipal landfills that discharge their leachate into surface waters.
 
Another popular way of disposing of liquid waste from fracking is deep underground injection wells, known as Class II wells, permitted by the EPA. This method of disposal has been linked to earthquakes by Ohio state geologists because the "slick water" as it's known by the industry, can lubricate faults.
 
Finally, water is intensively used by gas power plants that are being built at an alarming rate to generate steam and cool the plant. Cooling water is discharged into surface water and can cause disruption to local ecosystems that are sensitive to temperature like trout fisheries. The consumption of water can also compete with the needs of local water consumers in times of drought, when utilities may be required to raise rates.

Eviction of Mobile Home Park for Fracking Water

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network
 
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"507","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"360","style":"width: 333px; height: 250px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"480"}}]]Riverdale Mobile Home Park was located on the Susquehanna River in Piatt Township, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Residents were ordered to leave the park in March 2012 by Aqua PVR LLC, a project of Aqua America, a private water utility, and Penn Virginia Resources, a natural gas pipeline company. 
 
The property was purchased in order to build a water withdrawal pump station and water line that would withdraw three million gallons per day for use in hydraulic fracturing by Range Resources, a Texas-based Marcellus shale drilling company. Each shale gas well requires five to nine million gallons of water to force open the rock, allowing the gas to flow out.
 
Aqua America's facility takes 6,000 water truck trips off the road each day, according to Aqua America, which displaced truck drivers, parts suppliers, fuel deliverers, mechanics, and service employees from their jobs in Lycoming County. The Marcellus shale industry hasn't proposed any relief, solution, or alternative to this loss of employment opportunities for Pennsylvania residents. 
 
The facility's two permits were approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a federal commission made up of Governors Corbett (R-PA), Cuomo (D-NY), O'Malley (D-MD), and President Obama.
 
The capacity of the park was 37 units and in March 2012, 32 families lived there. The initial offer from Aqua America included $2,500 for residents to move by April 1 and $1,200 for residents to move by May 1.
 
Immediately after the tragic story of Riverdale hit the press with the help of volunteers, Aqua America extended the deadline for $2,500 in compensation until June 1st.
 
A series of town halls, vigils, and picnics were organized by residents with some help from volunteers from around northeast and central Pennsylvania in opposition to the project. Residents and allies even held protests at Aqua America's headquarters in Bryn Mawr, at their shareholder meeting, and in front of Aqua's CEO Nick DeBenedictis' mansion in Ardmore.
 
Unfortunately, many residents felt forced to leave the park for reasons including fear of losing the $2,500 offer, uncertainty of what Aqua would do on June 1, and termination of their leases.
 
At the time of the final vigil on May 31, only seven families remained at Riverdale. Those families invited and hosted volunteers from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states that evening to stay until morning when construction was scheduled to begin in an effort dubbed "Hands Across Riverdale."
 
They issued the following demands:
We demand that Aqua America sit down with the residents and their representation to negotiate in good faith a fair deal that...
1. Permits the remaining residents to stay living at Riverdale Mobile Home Park.
 
2. Provides those residents who have left with just compensation to cover their expenses.
 
3. Allows for the return of all residents who have left and wish to return.
 
On June 1, no construction vehicles came and road barricades boldly stated, "We Will Fight For Our Homes" and "Aqua America Kills Community." The following day, Aqua America sat down to negotiate with three pro-bono lawyers representing residents at the company headquarters in Bryn Mawr. A tentative agreement was reached and the residents were informed of the terms the following week. 
 
Details of that agreement are not publicly available at this time but it did include a "gag order," or non-disclosure agreement forbidding the residents and their children from speaking about the incident.
 
For a total of 12 days, Riverdale blossomed once again behind the barricades, despite all the suffering already endured. Volunteers joined to cook, run security shifts to prevent looting, move sheds, salvage building materials, plant a garden, provide child care, leaflet Jersey Shore and Williamsport, and to blast the story of Riverdale all over social networks.
 
On the twelfth day, Aqua America sent a subcontracted security firm to secure the site. Activists blocked the road in defiance, demanding that Aqua America continue to negotiate with residents in good faith. State police arrived on scene and ordered the protesters to move. There were no arrests. A chain link fence across the front of the park was constructed and later, a barbed wire fence surrounding the pump station construction area was added.
 
Round the clock security guards were stationed at the front of the park, which was lit with light towers resembling a prison. Construction proceeded even with the seven families remaining at Riverdale, including four young children. Finally, the $10,000 raised through online crowdfunding helped the residents move and relieved those who had already left with some financial burdens.
 
Former residents are scattered around the area. Many of the seniors were forced from independence into senior care centers. Three senior residents have passed away since, dislocated from the riverside community they chose to spend the rest of their life.
 
Some residents moved their homes to less desirable and more expensive parks, some are renting more expensive apartments and mobile homes, some are on the low-income housing waiting list, and others are staying with family and friends.
 
The story of Riverdale illustrates how little the gas companies, the governors, and President Obama care about the livelihoods of poor people when it comes to fossil fuel extraction.

EXCLUSIVE: Biomass Energy and the Carbon Neutral Shell Game

- by Brett Leuenberger, July 6, 2015 (Graphics by Brett Leuenberger)
 
Related Content: Biomass Incineration and Climate (debunking carbon neutrality)
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"489","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"480","style":"width: 333px; height: 431px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"371"}}]]Who would have ever thought that clean renewable energy could come from a smokestack? And yet, according to our U.S. government and the biomass industry, that’s exactly what’s happening when you burn trees (biomass) for energy. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to renewable energy, I think of wind turbines and solar panels producing clean, emission-free renewable energy.
 
While the final rulemaking process for biomass emissions is still in review, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released this memo last November from Janet McCabe to industry stakeholders, which endorses most biomass emissions as carbon neutral:
 
  • "For waste-derived feedstocks, the EPA intends to propose exempting biogenic CO2 emissions from GHG BACT analyses and anticipates basing that proposal on the rationale that those emissions are likely to have minimal or no net atmospheric contributions of biogenic CO2 emissions, or even reduce such impacts, when compared with an alternate fate of disposal."
Most of us can agree with the fact that we’re facing unprecedented global climate change due to our use of fuels that emit greenhouse gases (mainly carbon) into the atmosphere. There are a few possible ways to address this global climate challenge. One way is to vastly reduce or terminate our use of carbon emitting fuel sources by transitioning to emission-free energy sources like wind, solar and tidal. We could expand on that idea by creating hyper-local communities that focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy through the use of micro-grids. That’s why the carbon emissions from biomass are so critically important, especially as we look to our future energy and transportation needs and how those choices affect our earth’s climate.
 
The Biomass Boondoggle
 
There are multiple environmental issues with burning wood for biomass energy. Burning wood (pulp, chips, trimmings, sawdust residues and whole trees) for biomass energy actually emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than fossil fuels. Compared to fossil fuels, woody biomass is significantly less energy efficient and you need to burn at least twice as much wood to produce the same amount of thermal energy. For example, one ton of wood pellets produce 16.5 million BTU’s of energy while one ton of #2 fuel oil produces (52% more) 33.8 million BTU’s of energy.
 
Burning trees for biomass is a double whammy for the environment; not only are you adding more carbon emissions than fossil fuels, but you are also removing trees that work as carbon sinks and sequester vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. The biomass industry claims they use low value waste wood for fuel, but overwhelming evidence shows the industry repeatedly using whole trees for biomass and wood pellet production. 
 
Similarly, the industry is not obligated to account for the immediate or future loss of carbon sequestration from harvested trees. When compared to other “free” renewable energy sources like wind and solar, biomass energy is considerably more expensive to operate and requires long-term costs for sourcing the woody biomass fuel. Likewise, using woody biomass as a fuel source for electric utility power is not always cost effective in a competitively priced energy market. Here’s an example of a biomass plant forced to shut down; it was cheaper to remain idle than trying to supply power to the grid, leaving ratepayers on the hook.
 
The emissions from woody biomass contain high concentrations of particulates, which increase the air quality health risks to humans. Burning biomass exacerbates the problem of ocean acidification by taking locked-up terrestrial carbon (trees) and transforming it to atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is the major cause of ocean acidification. The growing U.S. biomass industry is creating an increased demand for wood, which can escalate clearcutting, deforestation, forest fragmentation, land-use changes and species habitat loss, as pointed out in this multi-disciplinary collegiate study from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Oregon Senate OK’s Carbon Neutral Biomass Bill

- April 9, 2015, KTVZ

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"465","attributes":{"alt":"carbon power plant","class":"media-image","style":"width: 444px; height: 381px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Comic: Tom Toles"}}]]State Sen. Tim Knopp (R- Bend) carried Senate Bill 752 on the Senate floor Monday and the effort to declare biomass "carbon-neutral" sailed through unanimously.

SB 752 declares biomass to be carbon neutral, taking a rule previously created by the Department of Environmental Quality and making it law. It is chief sponsored by Knopp and Sen. Chris Edwards (D-Eugene), chair of the Senate Environment and National Resources Committee.

The bill passed out of committee last week on a bipartisan, unanimous vote and did the same on the Senate floor Monday.

"I believe it's important for Oregon to endorse the carbon neutrality of biomass. We have the opportunity to create jobs while also pursuing sound environmental policy." said Knopp.

SB 752 now heads to the House, where Knopp hopes it will be taken up soon. "This is a good bill, especially for rural Oregon," he said." I'm looking forward to the House sending this bill to the governor for her signature."

Study: Biofuel Crops Replacing Grasslands, Contributing to CO2 Emissions

- April 4, 2015, Grand Island Independent

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"453","attributes":{"alt":"oglala national grasslands","class":"media-image","style":"width: 333px; height: 250px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: planetdoteco.com"}}]]A new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers show that crops, including the corn and soybeans used for biofuels, expanded onto 7 million acres of new land in the U.S. over a recent four-year period, replacing millions of acres of grasslands.

The study — from UW-Madison graduate student Tyler Lark, geography professor Holly Gibbs and postdoctoral researcher Meghan Salmon — addresses the debate over whether the recent boom in demand for common biofuel crops has led to the carbon-emitting conversion of natural areas. It also reveals loopholes in U.S. policies that may contribute to these unintended consequences.

 “We realized there was remarkably limited information about how croplands have expanded across the United States in recent years,” said Lark, the lead author of the study. “Our results are surprising because they show large-scale conversion of new landscapes, which most people didn’t expect.”

The conversion to corn and soybeans alone, the researchers say, could have emitted as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year — the equivalent of 28 million more cars on the road.

Boardman, Oregon Coal Plant Mulls Biomass

- by George Plaven, April 6, 2015, EO Media Group

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"451","attributes":{"alt":"boardman coal plant in oregon","class":"media-image","height":"317","style":"width: 333px; height: 220px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Wweek.com","width":"480"}}]]As a potential source of renewable energy, giant cane could be the answer to saving Portland General Electric’s coal-fired power plant in Boardman long after the facility quits using coal by 2020.

On the other hand, as an invasive species, giant cane could spread wild across the Columbia Basin, choking out native vegetation and undoing years of work by local tribes to restore river habitat.

A proposed bill in Salem attempts to strike a balance between the competing environmental interests. House Bill 2183 would require farmers who grow giant cane for biomass or other commercial uses to post a $1 million surety bond with the Oregon Invasive Species Council. The money would pay for costly eradication efforts, should the crop escape from the field.

Company to Burn Biomass in Escanaba, Michigan Coal-Fired Plant

- by Jenny Lancour, April 3, 2015, Escanaba Daily Press

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"447","attributes":{"alt":"Escanaba, Michigan coal plant","class":"media-image","style":"width: 333px; height: 228px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Escanaba Daily Press"}}]]Anyone wanting to express comments on a company's recent proposal to buy Escanaba's power plant can attend a public hearing next week at city hall, according to city officials.

A public hearing on a purchase proposal submitted by Sterling Energy Group, Inc. will be held during the joint meeting of council and the Electrical Advisory Committee beginning at 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday in council chambers.

Sterling Energy has offered to buy the coal-fueled power plant and equipment for $250,000 and plans to invest additional funds into the property to convert the facility to burn biomass.

The plant has been for sale for several years because it is less costly for the city to buy power compared to generating energy by burning coal. Escanaba has been buying power from a supplier for more than three years.

Council announced SEG's proposal last month but took no action pending next week's public hearing allowing citizen input on the matter.

SEG - headquartered in Gary, Ind. - buys coal-fired plants which no longer have a useful life and retrofits them into biomass-fueled facilities.

Obama Loves Biomass Thermal

- by Biomass Thermal Energy Council, March 23, 2015, Biomass Magazine

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"444","attributes":{"alt":"wood pellet biomass heating","class":"media-image","style":"width: 255px; height: 190px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]][Biomass industry groups overjoyed with the President’s most recent support for biomass energy. –Josh] 

The Biomass Thermal Energy Council  and the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI) commend President Obama’s commitment to expanding the use of renewable thermal energy with the issuance of Executive Order “Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade.”

The Executive Order calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across federal operations by at least 40 percent through 2025 through a broad host of measures, including building energy conservation, energy procurement inclusive of renewable thermal technology, and fleet management.

Study: The Dark Side of Forest Carbon Sequestration

 

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"439","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"317","style":"width: 275px; height: 231px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"378"}}]]Science has taught us that humans and trees have a symbiotic relationship: humans and other living creatures exhale carbon dioxide, which trees absorb to produce oxygen, which we then breathe. It’s a perfect circle that maintains life on Earth as we know it. But a recent study out of Rhode Island’s Miskatonic University has identified an unsettling aspect of this natural process.

The study, Rapid Uptake of Carbon Dioxide by Northeastern Spruce-Fir Forests, by Dr. Howard Philips et. al., posits that trees aren’t simply sequestering carbon dioxide voluntarily exhaled by humans, mammals, and other creatures, but are generating a vacuum effect that virtually sucks CO2 from our lungs before we’re done breathing it. Medically speaking, the process accelerates breathing rates, causing shallow breathing, reducing oxygenation of the brain, blood, tissues, and organs.