The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved an underground injection well for fracking wastewater in Plum, a Pittsburgh suburb. But doubts surrounding the coronavirus and the economy could put the project on hold.
Westmoreland County-based Penneco Environmental Solutions LLC applied for the permit to build the disposal facility in an old natural gas well.
The well has also received permitting from the EPA, which has some oversight for underground injection wells in Pennsylvania.
But Penneco’s Chief Operating Officer Ben Wallace said the project is on hold because of uncertainty surrounding the economy.
He said the company was trying to “figure out the impact of the current economic situation on the oil and gas industry” to determine the project’s future.
“We have to understand what will be the health of our customers, such that they would have the need or the opportunity to dispose of (drilling) fluids,” Wallace said.
Penneco first applied for a permit from the EPA six years ago. Since then, Wallace said, a lot has changed.
“As things have changed and evolved over the last six years in the oil and gas landscape has changed, now that we have a permit, we need to evaluate how that fits into our plans.”
The well was the subject of widespread local opposition.
“I think the borough was pretty uniformly opposed to an injection well in Plum,” borough manager Michael Thomas said. “There’s a lot of concerns about impacts to the geology as well as impacts the water quality,” Thomas said. He said several households in the vicinity of the well use private wells for drinking water.
Thomas said the borough had lost several challenges to the well, but that it’s still exploring “other options,” including a legal challenge to the well.
The DEP said the company would have to monitor groundwater and seismic activity as a condition of its permit.
The U.S. Geological Survey has linked an uptick in earthquakes in Oklahoma to oil and gas wastewater injection wells in that state, at distances up to 10 miles from the site of the disposal well. Earthquakes in Ohio have been linked to deep well injection, and one in New Castle, Pennsylvania was linked to fracking.
But the DEP and company officials say the well is too shallow to trigger seismic activity, which is typically associated with much deeper rock formations.
The facility received an underground injection permit from the EPA in 2018.
If you’ve been following climate change, the coronavirus pandemic will feel oddly familiar these days. Countries, including the U.S., have implemented radical policies that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago to slow the spread of the virus. Is this what it will take to solve the climate crisis?
On the latest episode of our Trump on Earth podcast, one climate reporter and writer says the coronavirus pandemic can’t be separated from the coming climate crisis. Last year Emily Atkin launched the HEATED newsletter which, in her words, is for people who are pissed off about climate change.
Atkin has now turned Heated into a podcast series about the intersection of climate change and coronavirus. It’s running on the podcast feed for Drilled (another climate-related podcast you should be listening to). She spoke with one of the Trump on Earth podcast host, The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier.
Reid Frazier: Tell me about the podcast series and why you decided to do it.
Emily Atkin: I was sitting here watching this global crisis take over society, politics and our lives. And I was confused about how I should be approaching it as a climate journalist. I knew there were clear parallels: It’s a problem that threatens millions of lives across the world. Scientists are telling us to act very rapidly and quickly, and yet we’re not doing that. I wanted to talk to really smart people about that. I figured I might as well record [those conversations] and make it available for other people to listen to so that we could all figure it out together.
RF: If you’ve followed climate change you know that this is a massive problem that requires collective action on an unprecedented scale. There’s a lot of resistance built-in; resistance to changing our behaviors and our systems. How do you see those problems as similar? Do you see big differences in how these problems manifest themselves or how they need to be looked at?
EA: I think the differences are good to get out of the way first. Coronavirus is obviously hugely different in that it is much faster and the impacts to human life are much more urgent. I think we’re all going to see people close to us either financially affected or affected in their health. This is touching every aspect of our lives very obviously right now, whereas climate change is touching every aspect of our life right now, too, but it’s a little less obvious day-to-day.
The other thing is that with coronavirus, we don’t have as big of an industry whose whole livelihood depends on the crisis keeping going. The pharmaceutical industry will be fine coronavirus or not. The fossil fuel industry will not be fine if we solve climate change because there will be no fossil fuel industry.
But the big similarities here are that climate change is a problem that won’t be solved unless we take really radical action very quickly on a global scale. It can’t be done without the biggest nations on Earth. It’s a problem where millions of lives are threatened; not only lives, but society in general. It’s a problem where we have to listen to scientists. There are no compromises based on biology or physics. Carbon dioxide warms the atmosphere. If we want the atmosphere to stop warming, we need to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide. Just the same, coronavirus is a virus that attacks ourselves and that’s why we need to stay away from each other. It’s basic science and physics.
There are also some social similarities: a reluctance to admit to the scale of the problem as we know it. I think we saw that with coronavirus, where we all knew it was happening, but we were like, ‘but it’s not going to affect me and I don’t really have to do anything.’ Coronavirus is basically just climate change sped up 10 times over. It’s like climate change on steroids.
RF: As you mentioned, there’s this resistance to listening to what the scientists are telling us. With climate change, you can basically get away with that for years. That is that the terrible thing about climate change –the ramifications of our actions (or inaction won’t be felt until the next generation. But, with coronavirus, it’s like three weeks.
EA: There’s plausible deniability, too. When it comes to climate change, deaths are happening now. Someone you love could be really affected by a hurricane or drought or a flooding event or heatwave. But there’s some part of your brain that you could compartmentalize and say that it wasn’t climate change. It’s not like coronavirus where if they die from coronavirus, they die from coronavirus.
I think that’s an important distinction to make when we’re talking about who is going to be affected by climate change. It’s not that people are going to see the effects down the line; it’s that people are going to start admitting to themselves that these are the effects down the line.
We’ve all focused our attention on this one thing. But climate change hasn’t stopped. It’s still happening and our efforts to combat it have just slowed. The fossil fuel industry is trying to take advantage of the crisis and make sure they can survive when this is done. These are all things that we need to keep in mind as we’re self-isolating and trying to deal with this crisis. It’s not that we’ve replaced one crisis for the other, it’s that now we have two to deal with.
RF: There’s been an effort from environmental groups and some in the Democratic Party to infuse any recovery package with green policies, almost like to kickstart a Green New Deal. What have you made of the debate about whether any recovery package should incentivize decarbonization or ramp up renewables?
EA: It doesn’t seem unrelated to me. If society were gonna go where we wanted it to go anyway, which is where we don’t die from four degrees Celsius of warming, we need a mass investment in green jobs. That’s not just renewable energy jobs, that’s things like planting mangrove trees and restoring ecosystems. So if we’re going to put two trillion dollars in revitalizing the economy, why not create an economy that is more resilient to global threats, especially as we’re facing a global threat?
Also, if we had the opportunity to spend trillions of dollars revitalizing the economy and in the process could not only save millions of lives from coronavirus, but could save millions of lives from climate change, creating a better society that’s more sustainable, why wouldn’t we do that?
RF: I think for a lot of people, we’re just not used to government telling us things that we can and can’t do in this country–closing restaurants, telling people to stay home–all these things that a month ago would have been unthinkable.
Do you see a shift in the way we see government or the things that become allowable because of this crisis? I mean, if we’re straight up just giving Americans twelve hundred dollars to just survive and giving industries hundreds of billions of dollars to survive, will a Green New Deal, or something like it, become more politically acceptable?
EA: Americans’ ability to forget things that have happened and keep up with the status quo is very strong. However, what I would hope comes out of this situation in terms of changing our way of thinking is that we understand the difference between sacrifices you make while you still have time to prevent a problem and sacrifices you make when you were in the thick of a problem.
If we’re going to solve climate change, we will have to make sacrifices. The policies that we put in place now to prevent crises later are going to mean that some things are going to be weird and uncomfortable and take getting used to it. It’s going to radically change the costs of certain foods, how much we use public transportation, how much our taxes are. It’s going to be uncomfortable and it’s gonna suck, but it’s way less uncomfortable than the changes that climate change would force us to make in the moment.
I’ve been covering climate science for long enough to know that if we reach three degrees Celsius, the world is going to look awful. The things that we’re going to have to do to try and reverse that in real-time are not going to be pretty. So let’s make these sacrifices now so that we all have a better chance of survival when we’re a little bit down the line.
Some GOP lawmakers oppose Gov. Tom Wolf's executive order for Pa. to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“Nature-based solutions” are the latest climate buzzwords, offering a strategy to fight climate change that is gaining widespread and bipartisan support. But what does it mean to do this well?
Without the work of Philadelphians, Earth Day may never have become a thing.
This story originally appeared in Drilled News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.
The Drilled News Climate & COVID-19 Policy Tracker is keeping an eye on climate change-related rollbacks by the Trump administration and state governments amid the coronavirus crisis, along with favors to oil and gas, and other energy and climate-related industries.
The fossil fuel industry and its allies in the Trump administration have begun attempting to leverage the COVID-19 pandemic for help from the federal government. The administration has stalled or rolled back some regulations and moved forward with policies that, in some cases, benefit the petroleum sector.
The changes are happening even as climate scientists say that for all nations to have a chance of averting catastrophic climate change, industrial nations must slash their carbon pollution within roughly a decade.
Pennsylvania areas showed some improvement in the report, but air quality in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas remains poor.
The state’s updated Climate Change Impacts Assessment predicts Pennsylvania will continue to get hotter and wetter with temperatures expected to rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, based on 2000 figures.
Precipitation in the state is expected to increase 8-12 percent in that same time period, and that makes the state a more favorable place in which to raise chickens.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection released an update to its 2015 climate impact assessment on Monday, which is conducted for the DEP by the Environmental and Natural Resources Institute at Penn State.
“Effective decision making for Pennsylvania’s future is decision making that accounts for the changes that are likely to happen if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the need to manage them,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said. “The Climate Impacts Assessment presents a detailed picture of these changes in several key areas.”
That projected 2.7-degree Fahrenheit increase equals 1.5 degrees Celsius. In 2018, a United Nations report called on governments to act to keep warming to below 1.5 Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The report said that at the current rate of increase, warming is likely to reach 1.5 Celsius between 2030 and 2052.
This is the third update to the original report mandated by state law and published in 2009. This version of the report focuses on the impacts to livestock, watershed management and infrastructure.
Poultry plants are expected to double by 2050 as the southern states become too hot to support chicken farms. Hogs, pigs and beef cattle farms could also increase. Dairy farms are expected to shift from the southeast region to the northwest parts of the state due to rising temperatures.
The combination of the increase in livestock, especially poultry, along with rising rainfalls could lead to more pollution run-off into the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.
The report stresses the need for upgrades and planning of stormwater management.
The assessment also warns of coastal storm surges in southeastern Pennsylvania damaging infrastructure, and increased risks of landslides in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Average yearly rainfall in the state has risen 10 percent and average temperatures have climbed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901. Gov. Tom Wolf announced in 2019 a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
April 22 marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.
WITF, in collaboration with PA Parks & Forests Foundation and Earth Day 50 PA, will host a virtual online screening of the WITF original documentary Penn’s Woods: Cradle of Conservation at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
After the screening, PA Parks & Forests Foundation President Marci Mowery will moderate a Q&A session with Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service historian Mark Madison; and Caren Glofelty, executive director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation. They’ll discuss the film and answer your questions. RSVP to attend here.
Penn’s Woods: Cradle of Conservation takes a historic look at how Pennsylvania’s natural resources helped transform the state into an industrial powerhouse. With economic booms and revolutions in natural resource extraction came an environmental price. Pennsylvanians set about restoring the state’s environmental riches, and in the process helped shape the national conservation and environmental movements of the 20th century.
Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Many of Earth’s most severe extinction crises have coincided with some of its largest volcanic events. At the end of the Triassic era (some 202 million years ago) the supercontinent Pangaea was breaking apart, the Atlantic Ocean was opening up, and millions of cubic kilometers of magma were bursting through Earth’s crust in a region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP). Pulses of volcanic activity, each lasting a few hundred to a few thousand years, released huge quantities of greenhouse gases from Earth’s internal plumbing system. The spike in carbon dioxide and other volcanic gases contributed to global warming and ocean acidification that wiped out more than three quarters of species on Earth.
In a new study, an international team of researchers sought to quantify the amount of carbon dioxide released during the event. Their results, published today in Nature Communications, show that a single pulse of activity during the end-Triassic eruptions released as much carbon dioxide as humans are expected to emit over the course of the 21st century.
Researchers have known for some time that the formation of large igneous provinces is often followed by dramatic shifts in climate or mass extinctions. The Deccan Traps in India likely contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs, for example, and the Siberian Traps are believed to have triggered the end-Permian extinction, in which more than 90% of life on Earth was wiped out.
“The CAMP is one of the most impressive large igneous provinces on Earth,” said Richard Ernst, a professor at both Canada’s Carleton University and Russia’s Tomsk State University who was not involved in the study. The total volume of the eruptive event would bury all of the United States, including Alaska, beneath a kilometer of basaltic magma, according to Ernst.
“These events are increasingly recognized to cause massive environmental change, and that’s being well documented by the precise dating that’s demonstrated that they’re associated in timing with the mass extinctions and other climatic change,” Ernst said. “The issue then turns more and more to what’s the mechanism?”
As a potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is understood to drive these climate changes, he said. But what’s less clear is just how much carbon dioxide was released and where exactly it comes from: Is it largely derived from the mantle itself, or is it formed when hot magma hits the crust, cooking the organic materials found in sedimentary rocks? The answer has implications aboveground as well as belowground.
To find out, the team behind the new study looked at samples of basaltic lavas collected from the United States, Canada, Morocco, and Portugal, now distant landmasses that were separated by the emergence of the large igneous province known as CAMP.
But estimating carbon dioxide emissions for ancient eruptions is a challenge, according to Manfredo Capriolo, a Ph.D. student at the University of Padova in Italy and lead author on the new study. “Carbon is a volatile element,” he said. “It readily degasses during magma rise and eruption. Moreover, carbon may be added to old rocks due to alteration.”
The team had to distinguish between magmatic carbon in their samples and carbon that had been taken up as part of the natural weathering process of basalt deposits. To do so, they looked for melt inclusions in their samples—the blobs of melted rock and gases trapped within the crystals that form as magma cools.
“The crucial new data were those we obtained by Raman microspectroscopy analysis, which allowed us to detect micrometric carbon-bearing bubbles within melt inclusions, below the rock surface,” Capriolo said.
The team used carbon dioxide concentration in the bubbles to estimate the total abundance of carbon dioxide in the magma before it reached the surface to be 500 to 1,000 parts per million.
The high concentration of carbon dioxide in the magma helps to explain the pulsing eruption style that characterized the CAMP, according to the study authors. Carbon dioxide can accelerate the rise of magma through Earth’s layers. (Hawaii’s fountain-like eruptions, for example, are driven by its carbon dioxide–rich basalts.)
On the basis of the total volume of the CAMP, the carbon dioxide concentration of the magma, and the ratio of glass to gas bubbles within the melt inclusions, the team estimated the total amount of volcanic carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
They found that a single pulse of activity—the eruption of 100,000 cubic kilometers of magma over some 500 years—could have had a significant impact on the Triassic climate, much as our current emissions are drastically reshaping our world today. The entire CAMP event would have released roughly 100,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide—enough to warm the world by 10°C to 15°C. Put another way, Ernst said, “if we’re talking about going up 2° to 3° over a hundred years, we’re 20% of the way to a mass extinction.”
“There are countless variables that should be taken into account to foresee future climate change scenarios and that we are not able to constrain for the end-Triassic world,” Capriolo cautions. “However, as geoscientists, we warn that the currently ongoing carbon dioxide emissions are similar to those that led to the end-Triassic mass extinction.”
For Ernst, the new study underscores the importance of understanding Earth’s deep past in predicting how it will respond to future climate change. Climate scientists typically use sophisticated climate models based on decades of historical weather and climate data to predict future climate change. But, he said, “there’s a wealth of data from looking at Earth’s geology, Earth’s four and half billion year history of dramatic climate change, to provide insight into modern climate change.”