General Motors Joins the War on Coal

Coal is slowly being ousted by natural gas and renewable energies as an energy source. Even General Motors has joined the fight by eradicating the use of coal from its plants, which will allow the automobile company to prosper in a number of ways, including getting a head start on Obama’s fuel economy mandates. GM and Ford have already moved to aluminum bodies and parts for their vehicles; swapping coal for environmentally friendly energy sources is just another step forward for GM.

What does this mean? GM no longer burns coal in its facilities, instead opting for renewable energies. The company has switched coal out for solar panels, wind power, capture landfill gas (a renewable energy), and steam that has been converted from municipal waste. The technology that GM uses to burn coal, called boilers, are no longer needed and have since been shut down. According to Slate, “General Motors is already 87 percent of the way toward its goal of using 125 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity by 2020.”

Yet, the corporation still relies on coal: it buys power from electrical facilities that burn coal; only 12 percent of GM’s energy sources are derived from renewables. But we can’t fault the car giant for making investments and efforts toward employing better environmental practices and energy mixes. GM’s small changes will result in bigger leaps to better our environment.

(From Slate)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2015

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“A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure” – New York Times, 14 December 2014

Last month, almost 200 nations gathered in Lima, Peru to agree on a global pact to reduce fossil fuel emissions, one of the primary causes of climate change. The deal — called the Lima Accord — shows huge progress in global effort to fight the effects of climate change: it’s the first time that these nations will make a unilateral effort to curb the use of oil, gas, and coal.

However, the Lima Accord is not lawfully mandatory. If it were legally binding, then the nearly 200 nations wouldn’t have agreed to the deal — not even the US. Instead, the hope is that global peer pressure will be the impetus to move the accord forward. At this point, every nation has agreed to place limits on its carbon emissions.

According to the accord, each nation will have to introduce carbon-cutting domestic legislation by either March or June. Laws will delineate how each country will curb emissions after 2020. These proposals are known to the UN as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which will be included in an upcoming climate deal in Paris in 2015.

But because the Lima Accord has no requirements, countries could conceive of feeble plans that wouldn’t drastically combat the effects of climate change. Countries also have the choice of not even offering a plan — and if they don’t submit a plan, there are no fines or retribution.

Again, the accord relies on peer pressure and a method called “name-and-shame.” Each countries’ plan will be posted to the UN’s site as public information. If the countries’ plans are made public and some are found to be weak in comparison, then the shame of such a weakness will hopefully push that country to strengthen its plan.

The biggest worry comes with the top three polluters: the US, China, and India. While President Obama has tried to make climate change a vital element of his second term, his legacy really depends on what happens after his term is over. He has vowed to reduce emissions by at least 28 percent by 2025, which can be attained if tailpipe and power plant emissions regulations are passed. Unfortunately, most Republican White House contenders are staunch opponents of Obama’s climate change policies and likely don’t care about global urgencies.

China has been pushed to seek methods of reducing emissions due to discord among its citizens, as citizens disapproved of China’s worsening air quality. The country has now eclipsed the US as the number one polluter — President Xi Jinping has promised that China’s emissions will spike in 2030 and then fall. In order to ensure that target, the country is enacting a national cap-and-trade structure where polluters will have to purchase greenhouse gas emissions.

Because curbing emissions can be costly, it is a difficult burden for developing nations. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast aside any efforts towards reversing climate change, instead focusing on economic growth and poverty, which could mean building new coal power plants. However, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has stated that the country will offer a plan in June.

Other countries that climate change policy observers are following are Russia and Australia. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin doesn’t believe that humans cause climate change, and Australia has phased out its Department of Climate Change, and also revoked a carbon tax.

While we have a majority of the countries on board with the deal, there are a few important strays that will determine whether or not the Lima Accord is indeed productive.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 15, 2014

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“Marathon Oil to Spend More in US” – 12 December 2013, Wall Street Journal

US-based oil and natural gas company Marathon Oil is planning to sell its business in the North Sea and increase drilling in the US, which — along with a 13% boost in spending and $2.5 billion share-repurchase program in 2014 — will aid the company in growing both its production and shareholder returns. Besides the US, its main exploration activities are in Norway, Guinea, Poland, Angola and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Of the company’s capital spending for 2014 — an estimated $5.9 billion — $3.6 billion will be used for drilling in North America.

The company is set to spend billions in Oklahoma, Texas and North Dakota, the latter two housing some of the largest shale formations in the US. For Texas, Marathon is investing $2.3 billion in the Eagle Ford Shale Formation located in South Texas, which is expected to have at least 400 new wells drilled in the coming months. For North Dakota, the company is investing $1 billion in the Bakken Formation, and $236 million in the Woodford Basin in Oklahoma.

Other US energy companies are also moving their businesses back home. LA-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. is planning to sell some of its Middle East business and increase its presence in West Texas’ Permian Basin. Houston-based Apache Corp. sold some of its natural gas business in Egypt in order to concentrate on North America. Houston-based ConocoPhillips is looking to sell some of its Nigerian and Kazakhstan assets for a move back home, as well.

Around 70% of Marathon Oil’s profits originate from manufacturing oil and natural gas; the company projects that it’s oil and gas output will rise by 4% in 2014.

It is very positive for both the US economy and energy independence that US energy companies are now investing more in US oil and gas properties.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 7, 2014

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“Four Colorado Towns Vote on Fracking Ban” – Wall Street Journal, 4 November 2013

Earlier this month, voters in the Colorado towns of Broomfield, Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette passed fracking bans. Broomfield, Boulder and Fort Collins will vote on moratoriums — Lafayette will vote on a permanent ban. While fracking has benefited the US economy and energy industry, many are against the technique, saying that it causes earthquakes, water contamination and air pollution.

Since no new technology is 100% safe, the town has to chosen the most optimal solution, based upon imperfect and changing best-known and unknown opinions and information. In democratic societies like ours, these debates are healthy, as they bring the best cost-effective, implementable solutions with long term staying power — inclusive of all stake holders.

The ban on fracking in these towns comes as a shock to the energy industry, as Colorado is a huge producer of both oil and gas: it is the ninth-biggest oil-producing state and sixth-biggest gas-producing state. Broomfield sits on the edge of the Niobrara Shale, a rock formation that has the ability to generate large amounts of oil and gas. Colorado currently has 100 oil rigs in use, which produce 267,000 barrels of oil and 4.6 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) approximates that the state holds at least two billion barrels of oil in reserves.

The Broomfield decision is being carefully watched by the oil, gas, coal and the entire renewable and non-renewable energy industry, as well as pro- and anti-fracking groups — the town is greatly indicative of statewide, and maybe even nationwide, voting and public opinion trends.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 20, 2013

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