Natural Gas and BioMass: Read about it here.
Why Natural Gas Isn’t Really Clean
Natural Gas burns cleaner, but the distribution and extraction or “fracking” of natural gas often leaks methane, which is 25 times more heat trapping over a 100 year period. Even worse, in the first 20 years, it is 84 times more deadly when released into our atmosphere. Any benefit from leaving coal behind is lost, perhaps even made worse. Studies show that many cost effective technologies are available to reduce leaking methane, but policies are lacking to enforce them in an industry that shows little interest in regulation. (Bradbury, et al, 2013, Harvey, Gowrishshankar and Singer, 2012 IEA 2012b } The following describes why use of natural gas must be considered with great care.
Natural gas production has environmental, social, and health challenges. Fracking fluid contains hundreds of chemicals, including benzene, lead, and methanol which are highly toxic. The disposal of this fluid has been shown to often end up ground and drinking water supplies, risking agricultural contamination, along with harmful consequences to human health. Volatile prices, potential shortages, and other economic costs add to the risks of expanded use of natural gas. Supply uncertainty and increased demand for natural gas could put pressure on prices.
Limited use of natural gas can play a role in reducing global warming pollution, but using it for transportation fuel does not represent one of the best climate solutions. For example, a natural gas-powered Honda Civic delivers about a 15 percent reduction in global warming pollution compared with a conventional gasoline-powered Civic, but a gasoline-electric Civic hybrid costs less and delivers a 30 percent reduction in emissions. A better use for natural gas in the transportation sector would be as a resource to generate electricity for plug-in vehicles or hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, which can provide global warming emissions savings on the order of 40 percent.
Furthermore, use of natural gas for power plants extends our dependence on dirty fossil fuels. We now have the technologies available to help us make a clean energy transition. Now is the time to invest in clean solar and wind. Any investments in new natural gas infrastructure will only extend our dependence at least 40 years into the future.
Sources: Union of Concerned Scientists Winter, 2013, Environmental Defense Fund, An Unprecedented Look at Methane from the Natural Gas System.
Biomass Energy: Impacts on Health, Climate, and Wildlife
Why Biomass at the Boardman Power Plant Poses a Monumental Threat.
What is biomass? Biomass can consist of wood from forests and logging residues, sawdust from lumbermills, construction or organic municipal waste, energy crops (switchgrass), crop residue, and even chicken litter. Biomass energy depends largely on wood from forests.
Our Concern: the Boardman Power Plant in Eastern Oregon is now considering burning of biomass as a coal substitute. Other plants in Central Oregon are being considered or are already in use. Special interests are inaccurately promoting biomass as a carbon neutral cash crop and a coal substitute with little or no disclosure of its negative impacts to our air and climate.
When you’re in a Climate Emergency, as we are today, you know you need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly. Yet, jumping to funding and implementation of new fuels that replace coal, without critical examination of their polluting emissions, is now proving harmful to all living things. The forest and biomass industry has rushed to define biomass as carbon neutral. Oregon legislators inserted it into the Coal to Clean Energy Bill, which made it eligible for subsidies as “clean energy”. On the Federal level, legislators, also backed by timber and biomass interests, are pushing for the same designation. However, this is fostering a hornet’s nest of problems.
A comprehensive study, done by Partners for Policy Integrity, PFPI, states that biomass plants are not carbon neutral. Their research shows that biomass plants emit 50% more carbon dioxide than coal. Any theoretical “offsets” in emissions would take decades to occur, given that trees removed and replaced have a timeline of 10-100 years before they would grow back to recapture similar amounts of carbon dioxide. This is further confirmed by William Moomaw1, respected professor and lead IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, author, who spoke at the European Parliament to explain 10 reasons why bioenergy is not automatically carbon neutral.
This wrongful designation, protested by many scientists, could also imperil the climate and put lives and health at risk from harmful pollution. Trees, Trash, and Toxics, a comprehensive Rockefeller-funded study done by Partners for Policy integrity, shows that emissions from biomass power plants produce 800% more pollutants than natural gas plants. And we know that Natural gas is another fossil fuel with its own dirty life cycle emission profile.
The damaging ramifications of the wrongful carbon neutrality designation means that biomass plants also escape the life cycle analysis accounting that is recommended for all fuels in order to determine a complete carbon accounting: from production, to storage, to transmission, and burning. According to a Study by Whittaker, Roder, and Thornley, from the Tyndall Center for Climate Research, today’s biomass-burning power plants actually produce more global warming CO2 than fossil fuel plants: 65 percent more CO2 per megawatt hour than modern coal plants and 285 percent more CO2 than natural gas combined cycle plants (which use both a gas and steam turbine together).
There are multiple factors that affect biomass carbon accounting, such as storage, transport, type of tree, combustion method, and what type of soil it is taken from, since up to half of the carbon is in soil. Its no easy matter doing proper carbon accounting, and you’re not motivated to do it if there are no regulations to say you have to.
A growing, largely unregulated Biomass Industry puts forests and wildlife under threat: 65 scientists, concerned about the myth of carbon neutrality, wrote the US Congress: “The potential implications of declaring carbon neutrality for forest biofuels are great, because even small quantities of bioenergy require large quantities of wood. The US Energy Information Agency estimates that for each 1% added to current US electricity production from forest biomass, an additional 18% increase in US forest harvest is required.” A great number of environmental groups, sustainable interests, environmental, forest, law, wildlife, and water conservation groups have also asked Congress to reconsider the carbon neutral myth. Wildlife protectors point out that forest den and snag trees are essential to at least 30% of living species. Taking them out is harmful to wildlife, and even worse, quite possibly will lead to massive deforestation. Some research shows that some fuel reduction may prevent ladder type wildfire advancement to the tree crowns. But this does not support uncontrolled reduction or removal of all ground debris that is taking place in many biomass removal sites.
READ the LETTER: Scientists point out the impracticality of biomass as a fuel source. According to Mary Booth, researcher for PFPI: “burning trees for electricity is extremely inefficient and emits more carbon pollution than coal. No amount of industry spin can change the basic physics of wood combustion.” See their website biomess101.org. Trees are much better kept growing where they can continue to sequester carbon.
How Lack of Regulation and the Carbon Neutral Myth Fosters Toxified Air
PFPI found that Biomass plants, though they emit more pollutants than fossil fuel plants, are not required to meet the same emission standards. The Clean Air Act allows biomass plants to emit up to 2.5 times more pollution than a coal plant. Some biomass plants become more like waste incinerators, burning waste lumber and demolition debris, although they don’t need to meet the same regulatory guidelines as waste incinerators.
The American Lung Association is concerned about biomass plant pollutants like particles, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, arsenic, lead, mercury, carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde, which encourage increased asthma, death, cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory disease. People living in communities where a biomass plant exists, particularly diabetics, elderly, and children, and those with chronic illness, are at high risk.
In sum, unregulated, large-scale, and subsidized biomass burning should not be allowed. There are better energy choices for coal substitute and protecting our forests, wildlife, and clean air. Many plants have been closed down or scrapped after these findings have come to light.
What can be done?
First, biomass can be replaced by solar, wind, and battery storage, that are cleaner sources of energy. Biomass is an inadequate and poor substitute for coal and should not be allowed in our Power Plants.
Don’t allow burning of construction debris. The City of Portland has an excellent plan that recycles construction waste. This is the direction we should go to reduce toxic air pollution.
Contact your legislators to voice your concerns about the lack of oversight to biomass facilities. Ask that they meet stricter standards for air quality, beyond that of the current EPA, and Department of Environmental Quality.
Consider stricter regulations pertaining to allowable biomass: Massachusetts has enacted model legislation to identify what biomass should be allowed. This includes
No removals from old growth forest stands, or from steep slopes
• Retention/protection of forest litter, forest floor, stumps/roots
• No removal of naturally down woody material
• Retention of adequate supplies of den trees, snags