A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.
Crews shut down the pipeline Thursday morning, and officials are investigating the cause of the leak, which occurred about three miles southeast of the town of Amherst, said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota, Walsh said. The leak comes just days before Nebraska officials announce a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a sister project, can move forward.
In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said.
About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday.
“It is a below-ground pipeline, but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass,” Walsh said. “It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination.”
There were no initial reports of the oil spill affecting waterways, water systems or wildlife, he said.
TransCanada said it was working with state and federal agencies.
“The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available,” the company said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the situation and will provide resources and assistance if needed, a spokesman said.
“EPA is aware of the spill and is receiving periodic updates from the state of South Dakota, which is overseeing response activity at the spill site,” he said.
Concerns about the spill
The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles, from Hardisty, Alberta, east into Manitoba and then south to Texas, according to TransCanada. The pipeline transports crude oil from Canada.
The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from Hardisty to Steele City, Nebraska, would complete the proposed system by cutting through Montana and South Dakota.
The sections of pipeline affected stretch from Hardisty to Cushing, Oklahoma, and to Wood River, Illinois, the company said.
The spill occurred in the same county as part of the Lake Traverse Reservation. The leak location is not on Sioux property, but it is adjacent to it and has historical value, said Dave Flute, tribal chairman for Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.
“We want to know how long is it going to take to dig this plume of contaminated soil and how can we be reassured, without a doubt, that it has not and will not seep into the aquifer,” he said.
Flute, along with the tribal emergency management director and the manager of the tribal office of environmental protection, arrived Friday morning at the staging area of the leak site to meet with representatives from TransCanada. Flute said he was out there to offer assistance and to understand the cause of the leak and the environmental impacts it might pose.
“We want to find out, was there a crack in the pipe? We don’t know. We want to get that information,” Flute said. “More importantly, and to stay positive, they did clean up the site, they did contain it.”
Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the spill shows the new pipeline in Nebraska should not be approved.
“The Nebraska Public Service Commission needs to take a close look at this spill,” said Rachel Rye Butler of Greenpeace. “A permit approval allowing Canadian oil company TransCanada to build Keystone XL is a thumbs-up to likely spills in the future.”
The approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid hefty opposition from environmental groups, who argued the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands, which pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. Environmentalists also opposed the pipeline because it would cut across the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground deposits of fresh water.
Tar sands oil is much thicker and stickier than traditional oil, significantly complicating cleanup efforts. The fact it’s thicker also means it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials to allow it to be transported in pipelines.
Native American groups have argued the pipeline would cut across their sovereign lands.
Trump said the new pipeline will be a big win for American workers, but critics say it won’t be, because most of the jobs would be temporary.
Dakota Access pipeline
TransCanada said Thursday that the section of Keystone pipe that was leaking was isolated within 15 minutes after a drop in pressure was detected.
That pipeline, which runs through both Dakotas and two other states, drew fierce resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, the tribe’s allies and environmentalists.
Opposition to the pipeline sparked monthslong protests, with as many as 10,000 people participating during the peak of the demonstrations. Clashes with police at the protests turned violent at times, with one woman nearly losing her arm after an explosion last November.
Rooftop solar energy is becoming a financially viable way for millions of U.S. consumers to generate their own electricity — and utilities are doing everything to kill the solar boom before it gains too much traction. Utilities in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, and Nevada have tried to undermine rooftop solar at the regulatory level and in ballot measures. As a reaction, voters have fought back and beaten the efforts to squash solar energy.
The impact on residential solar companies Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), Vivint Solar(NYSE: VSLR), Sunrun (NASDAQ: RUN), and SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) shouldn’t go unnoticed. They’re winning the policy war against utilities, and as they do, it’ll open a larger and larger market across the country.
POLICY WINS ARE GOING TO RENEWABLE ENERGY
The election earlier this month was accompanied by a number of ballot initiatives that will impact solar energy for years to come. And for the most part, solar energy was a huge winner.
Despite utilities’ spending $26 million to pass a referendum that would have undermined solar economics in the state, Florida voters rejected the utility referendum. The state now looks like it’ll have a bright solar future.
In Nevada, less than a year after the public utility commission essentially killed the rooftop solar industry, residents overwhelmingly voted to break up Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B)-owned NV Energy’s long monopoly in the state. Customers have to be given energy choice, meaning more solar in one of the country’s sunniest states.
In the past, Wisconsin has tried to add fees to utility bills that would kill solar energy before it ever got started, but those attempts were rejected by the court.
There’s an important trend here for utilities and solar companies: When solar energy goes on the ballot or to the court, it wins. That should have every utility in the country frightened because that gives millions of customers choice regarding their energy needs.
THE LOOMING THREAT FOR UTILITIES
Policy wins are important because they lay the groundwork for future innovations to take hold in energy. Today, that means rooftop solar on more than 1 million homes in the U.S. — and that number is growing quickly.
The next step will be adding energy storage to homes, something that Tesla is leading on and that Vivint, Sunrun, and SunPower are all adding, as well. As energy storage is added, customers can use more of their own energy, making net metering less important and providing more flexibility for customers.
The holy grail for renewable energy is allowing customers to cut the cord to the utility altogether. We may be a decade from that being a reality, but the more utilities add fixed fees or demand charges, the more quickly the economics of cord-cutting will become compelling. Long-duration energy-storage technologies are already beginning to be deployed, and before long, a couple of Powerwalls and a long-duration energy-storage system may be a viable option for consumers, making utilities irrelevant.
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE IN ENERGY
Utilities are in a tough position, having incentives to apply policies that protect short-term profits but which may undermine long-term competitiveness. It’s clear that when push comes to shove, voters are willing to overturn utility policies, voting for solar energy across the country. That has to be a concern for utilities, and it shows that the future is getting brighter for solar energy companies providing the solutions customers want.
It’s a question many Americans are asking themselves now that the U.S. has wrapped up one of its least policy-specific elections ever. The president-elect has offered only the loosest of legislative prescriptions, including whatever plans he may have for the energy industry.
The mystery hangs over turbine manufacturers like Vestas Wind Systems, which fell 12 percent since the election, and coal companies such as Peabody Energy Corp., which soared 73 percent. In his only major energy speech, Trump, 70, said he would rescind “job-destroying” environmental regulations within 100 days of taking office and revive U.S. coal. It’s terrible news for efforts to slow the pace of climate change, but the impact on the renewable energy revolution may be limited. Here’s what it could mean for America’s clean-energy darling, Tesla Motors Inc.:
1. Solar and wind subsidies are probably safe
Tesla is, first and foremost, an electric car company. But on Nov. 17 shareholders will vote on final approval of CEO Elon Musk’s $2.2 billion deal to buy SolarCity Corp. The acquisition would make Tesla the biggest U.S. rooftop solar installer and the first major manufacturer to integrate solar panels with battery backup to extend power into the night.
The swift spread of rooftop solar in the U.S. has been made possible by two government policies. First, most utilities are required to credit homeowners for the excess power they send back to the grid. Those requirements are state-level and shouldn’t be affected by Trump. Second is the 30 percent federal tax credit to offset the cost of installations. The credits were first signed into law under Republican President George W. Bush in 2005 and extended by a Republican Congress late last year. Given their broad support, the subsidies are unlikely to be repealed.
2. Even without incentives, renewables will get cheaper
Solar panel prices have dropped, on average, more than 15 percent a year since 2013. On a utility scale, solar power is already cheaper than coal-fired grid electricity across most of the U.S., after subsidies. Even if the incentives were suddenly removed next year—an improbable and economically destructive scenario—the industry would eventually recover as prices continue to fall.
Incentives are designed to make superior new technologies initially affordable, but once those technologies take off, economies of scale take over.
A loss of the federal tax credit could slow the rollout of Tesla’s unusual new rooftop solar shingles. Traditional rooftop panels, however, are almost ready to stand on their own. The payback period currently ranges from about 5 to 10 years, after subsidies and state rebates. If Tesla can achieve the cost savings it hopes for with the merger, it won’t be long before that’s the payback timeline without subsidies.
3. Gasoline fuel-efficiency targets could be dismantled
One of President Barack Obama’s most significant climate achievements was to push through ambitious fuel-economy regulations for U.S. vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled next year to re-asses rules intended to double the average efficiency of cars and trucks to almost 55 miles per gallon by 2025. Those goals could be delayed or dismantled under Trump, accelerating America’s shift to trucks and SUVs. Stocks of Detroit carmakers have predictably surged, while Tesla shares fell 4.9 percent in the two days after the election.
This is obviously bad news for human health and the environment, but it’s impact on Tesla won’t be catastrophic. The price of batteries is dropping rapidly, and by the early 2020s electric cars should be cheaper and better performing than their gasoline-powered equivalents across the board. Lowering efficiency standards will make gasoline cars a bit cheaper to manufacture, but it will also make them more costly to drive over the life of the vehicle.
4. Electric vehicle incentives will expire on their own
The U.S. push for electric cars was set in motion by a $7,500 federal tax break. The Trump administration could eliminate the subsidy, but the impact would be short-lived for electric pioneers including Nissan Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Tesla. That’s because the electric-vehicle subsidies were already designed to phase out after each automaker reaches its 200,000th domestic EV sale. Tesla may be first to cross that finish line, probably in the first half of 2018.
The incentives were intended to overcome steep startup costs and slow initial demand for new electric vehicles. Removing the tax break now would effectively pull the ladder up behind Tesla and make it more expensive for other automakers to transition to battery power, a result that wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest.
5. States wield the power of their own incentives
Some of the biggest incentives in renewable energy are offered by states, not the federal government. Each state has authority over its own solar and wind rebates, credits for power sold back to the grid, renewable-mix requirements for utilities, and electric-car subsidies. These policies cross ideological borders into deeply Republican states. For example, Louisiana residents can get an additional tax credit of almost $10,000 for buying a long-range electric car. In Colorado, it’s an extra $5,000.
Under Trump, the role of cities and states in regulating pollution and expanding clean energy will increase. So will the disparity between states that prioritize the issue and those that don’t. But again, don’t expect the energy revolution to follow rigid red-state, blue-state definitions. The states producing the most wind power in the U.S. include Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. For solar, Arizona, North Carolina, and Nevada are among the top ten. Of those, Hillary Clinton won only Nevada.
6. Keystone’s resurrection won’t make gasoline cheaper
This election was great news for oil companies. Reviving the Keystone XL pipeline, which was rejected under Obama, is on Trump’s list of priorities for his first 100 days. He is also likely to support the beleaguered Dakota Access Pipeline. The company building it, Energy Transfer Partners LP, says business is “only going to get better” under Trump.
These pipelines are hugely symbolic for climate activists who say we can’t keep building infrastructure for oil we can’t afford to burn. But the impact of the pipelines themselves is open to debate. They increase profitability for oil companies, but as oil trades on a global market, the impact on U.S. gasoline prices and by extension demand for electric cars is negligible.
7. Trade barriers with Mexico would hurt Tesla’s rivals
Trump wants to scrap or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That could be a dicey proposition for the car industry. Since 2010, nine automakers, including Ford Motor Co., GM and Fiat Chrysler have announced more than $24 billion in Mexican investments. They rely on Mexican plants to produce millions of vehicles and a high volume of parts.
By contrast, Tesla’s manufacturing and assembly are done almost entirely in California and Nevada. Tesla also plans to begin solar-panel production next year at SolarCity’s massive plant in Buffalo, N.Y. Tariffs on solar panels made outside the U.S. would make Tesla’s American-made products more competitive.
In the end, the confluence of all of these forces, but especially the precipitous decline of coal and increasing affordability of renewable sources of energy, is probably too strong to be reversed by the incoming Republican administration. That’s good news for Tesla, and a lot of other companies working to clean up the energy supply.
Cheaper coal and gas will do nothing to derail the renewable energy revolution according to BNEF’s New Energy Outlook 2016.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance states 60% of installed capacity will be zero-emission energy sources by 2040 and wind and solar power will take the lion’s share of new power generation capacity added – 64%.
Solar power is forecast to be the cheapest generation technology in most countries by 2030 and account for 3.7TW, or 43%, of new capacity added in 2016-40. This will represent $3 trillion of new investment.
A very important point in the report is that around 2027, new wind and solar will be cheaper than running existing coal and gas generators, particularly where carbon pricing has been implemented. In just over a decade we may see a marked uptick in current fossil fuel generation plants being shuttered. The report says there will be a net closure of 286GW of coal in OECD economies by 2040.
By 2040, BNEF states Australia will have wind and solar penetration of more than 50%.
Another prediction will get electric vehicle supporters excited – BNEF’s modeling suggests EV’s will comprise a quarter of the global car fleet by 2040. This is also good news for the residentialand commercial solar sector as it will accelerate a reduction in battery costs through technology development, economies of scale and enhanced manufacturing know-how.
BNEF sees a very healthy future for small-scale solar power, with it accounting for 10% of global generating capacity by 2040. With regard to home battery systems, Bloomberg expects solar energy storage to be commonly deployed alongside rooftop solar panel systems by 2020.
Behind-the-meter energy storage generally will see a sharp rise from around 400MWh today to nearly 760GWh in 2040.
While the news is upbeat about renewables generally, forecasted additions won’t be enough to rein in carbon emissions to the required degree.
“Some $7.8 trillion will be invested globally in renewables between 2016 and 2040, two thirds of the investment in all power generating capacity, but it would require trillions more to bring world emissions onto a track compatible with the United Nations 2°C climate target,” said Seb Henbest, lead author of the report and head of Europe, Middle East and Africa for BNEF.
BNEF suggests approximately USD $5.3 trillion would need to be invested in zero-carbon power by 2040 to prevent carbon dioxide levels rising above 450 parts per million.
An in-depth look at the population’s resistance to climate change, in addition to an analysis on vulnerable groups in the country, are among several issues that will be integral in the new Population Dynamics and Climate Change Resilience project, to be undertaken by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA).
Daniel Schensul and Sainan Zhang, who are both technical specialists at the UNFPA headquarters in New York, told The Gleaner in an interview on Friday, that there needs to be more robust research that focuses on people, in order to adapt effectively to the impact of climate change.
“The people are very critical in the fight to mitigate against the impacts of climate change and this project will zoom in on just that. The aim is to have comprehensive data with the use of new technology that enables us to know a lot more about the population at every level, understanding what factors make them more vulnerable or more resilient to massive changes to the climate change,” Schensul said at the UNFPA offices in New Kingston.
“This will definitely be an asset for policymakers, as the plan is to cover the whole country at the community level. We will be looking at what kind of houses people live in, where they live, specifically down to their neighbourhood, their education, occupation, access to services and every other information that will be essential as to how well people are able to adapt to climate change,” he continued.
“This new technology will pull all of that information together, because if you don’t know that it is happening you can’t do anything about it.”
“We see a lot of projects and data looking at the environmental side, which means there are a lot of infrastructural programmes such as the building of sea walls and initiatives to protect the economy, but, at the end of the day when flood comes, people’s lives will still be at risk.”
Similarly, Sandra Paredez, a census technical adviser based in Jamaica, who noted that the group has collaborated with the Planning Institute of Jamaica, said there was a strong linkage between population dynamics and climate change, resilience.
“We see more and more that there are strong linkages between population dynamics and climate change, and so I believe that this project will fill gaps that exist, especially how we treat with the allocation of resources,” she said.
“We will be using the 2011 census data and exploring the use of the 2001 data to see how best we can explore issues such as the elderly population, age structures and the different vulnerable groups in order to fully analyse the different dimensions of vulnerabilities that exist,” she said.
“I believe we are filling a gap, because people are in a position to influence and they are also the ones being impacted, so all plans have to be centred on them. While we want to save forests and address water issues, it is because it affects people’s lives and that is what the UN tries to focus on – who gets affected, where they are located and what makes them vulnerable to these environmental factors due to climate change.”
Earth just keeps getting hotter. July was the planet’s warmest month on record, smashing old marks, United States weather officials said.
And it’s almost a dead certain lock that this year will beat last year as the warmest year on record, they said.
July’s average temperature was 61.86 degrees Fahrenheit (16.6 Celsius), beating the previous global mark set in 1998 and 2010 by about one-seventh of a degree, according to figures released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That’s a large margin for weather records, with previous monthly heat records broken by a 20th of a degree or less.
“It just reaffirms what we already know: that the Earth is warming,” said NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch. “The warming is accelerating and we’re really seeing it this year.”
NOAA records go back to 1880. Separate calculations by NASA and the Japanese weather agency also found July 2015 to be a record.
The first seven months of 2015 were the hottest January-to-July span on record, according to NOAA. The seven-month average temperature of 58.43 degrees (14.7 Celsius) is 1.53 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average and a sixth of a degree warmer than the old record set in 2010.
Given that the temperatures have already been so high already – especially the oceans, which are slow to cool – NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden said she is “99 per cent certain” that 2015 will be the hottest on record for the globe. The oceans would have to cool dramatically to prevent it, and they are trending warmer, not cooler, she said.
Climate Change, El Nino
Crouch, Blunden and other scientists outside of the government said these temperatures are caused by a combination of man-made climate change and a strong, near-record El Nino. An El Nino is a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that alters weather worldwide for about a year.
The oceans drove the globe to record levels. Not only were the world’s oceans the warmest they’ve been in July, but they were 1.35 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average.
The heat hit hard in much of Europe and the Middle East. It was the hottest July on record in Austria, where records go back to 1767. Parts of France had temperatures that were on average seven degrees above normal and temperatures broke 100 in the Netherlands, which is a rarity. And an Iranian city had a heat index (the “feels like” temperature) of 165 degrees (74 Celsius), which was still not quite record.
Nine of the 10 hottest months on record have happened since 2005, according to NOAA. Twenty-two of the 25 hottest months on record have occurred after the year 2000. The other three were in 1998 and 1997.
This shows that despite what climate-change doubters say, there is no pause in warming since 1998, Blunden said.
It doesn’t matter if a month or a year is number one or number two or number five hottest on record, said University of Georgia climate scientist Marshall Shepherd.
“The records are getting attention but I worry the public will grow weary of reports of new records each month,” Shepherd said in an email. “I am more concerned about how the Earth is starting to respond to the changes and the implications for my children.”