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Incoming! New Report Notes 14 “Carbon Bombs” Threatening To Blow The Global Carbon Budget

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"Incoming! New Report Notes 14 “Carbon Bombs” Threatening To Blow The Global Carbon Budget"

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The general scientific consensus is that the average global temperature cannot be allowed to warm more than two degrees Celsius [3.6°F] in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. In fact, a two degree rise alone would threaten the water supplies of hundreds of millions of people, lead to global crop declines, bleach coral reefs around the world, and drive up ocean acidification.

Limiting global emissions between 2010 and 2050 to 1,050 gigatons of CO2-equivalent pollution should give us a 75 percent chance of staying under a two degree rise, according to a new report from Ecofys and Greenpeace, which rounded up 14 “carbon bombs” — the biggest coal, oil and natural gas projects currently being planned around the world.

According to the analysis, the combined effect of these projects alone would dump 300 new gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere by 2050. That would blow through roughly a third of the allowance that gives us a 75 percent chance of staying under two degrees. Needless to say, if these projects were carried out, it would make it vastly more difficult for the planet to stay on a path that keeps it under the two degree threshold.

Two of the projects can be found in the United States, and a third is deeply bound up with rapidly approaching U.S. policy choices:

  • A plan to export new coal from the Pacific Northwest. This would add 420 million tons of carbon a year by 2020. Activists and even some American politicians have already been battling the project for some time.
  • Expanded shale gas production. This will add 280 million tons a year by 2020 according to the report. But as David Roberts points out, this estimate relies on the assumption that natural gas fields leak methane at a rate of 3.9 percent. There’s evidence that assumption significantly low-balls the problem.
  • Tar sands in Canada. This project would be greatly helped along by construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through the lower-48 states. The Obama Administration will decide whether to approve the pipeline sometime after March.

Here’s a map of the offenders, put together by The Washington Post‘s Brad Plumer from the report. (Click the image for a larger version.)

The two biggest offenders in the report were China’s plan to ramp up new coal production, creating an additional 1,400 megatons of CO2 emissions a year, and Australia’s plan to export 760 new megatons of coal per year. Ironically, both countries were hit by the effects of coal pollution over the course of 2012. Particulate pollution in Beijing literally broke the relevant measuring scales, and Australia was wracked by a record-breaking heat wave and a rash of wildfires, all linked to global warming.

There is some good news in the caveats, as Plumer notes. The energy produced by these projects won’t necessarily add on linearly to each other, or to the energy already being produced by fossil fuels. Natural gas from one project could undercut the need for coal from another project, for instance. Or it could displace coal consumption already occurring — a net reduction in carbon output, in the latter instance. (Of course, these projects could also displace energy being produced from renewables. A problem, to put it mildly.)

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43 Responses to Incoming! New Report Notes 14 “Carbon Bombs” Threatening To Blow The Global Carbon Budget

  1. fj says:

    Yep, we’re at extreme crisis proportions. If we don’t do ourselves in, and so far we’re doing a great job, ma nature will lend a helping hand, in this greatest of experiments we should have never started.

  2. D. R. Tucker says:

    Hopes are high that the President’s Inaugural mention of climate change as one of the key issues in his second administration will be followed by sustained action. We’ll get reaction from Brad Johnson of the Climate Silence and Forecast The Facts campaigns. Next, we’ll get reaction to Nebraska’s Governor ok’ing the Keystone XL route through his state. Benjamin Gotschall is Energy Director at BOLD Nebraska. He says the fight is not over yet!!

    Read more: http://prn.fm/2013/01/23/on-the-green-front-012313/#ixzz2Iql4c6tz
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      We’ve got just the same type of snake-oil salesman in Australia. Just today the ABC radio news highlighted some fellow’s claim that shale oil in South Australia amounted to ‘two hundred billion barrels’ of oil, worth trillions. Mind you, he didn’t mention climate change, the hideous pollution cost in the world’s driest continent or the cost in dollars to extract this bounty, but I swear that I heard the faint ‘Plop, plop’ as he slavered in ecstasy at the thought of all that lovely lucre, his saliva overflowing and dropping to the floor.

  3. catman306 says:

    This ‘carbon bomb’ appears to be ready to fizzle.

    “One of the top geologists in the oil exploration and production business says the following: shale gas production by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a commercial failure. Is. Present tense. shale gas will be the next financial “bubble” to collapse. holding out the possibility of energy independence for the United States is “absurd.” To suggest it could be done in five years is “garbage.” His name is Arthur Berman and he is no tree hugger. For 34 years he has been finding and developing oil fields, and he works for Big Oil. His attitude toward the planet-threatening downside of burning fossil fuels is basically that you have to break a few eggs to have an omelette. But Mr. Berman knows arithmetic, both how to add and more importantly how to subtract. In making the points listed above — most of which will be old news to anyone who reads The Daily Impact – in an interview with OilPrice.com, Berman also talked about two large trends that seem to be invisible to those

    http://www.dailyimpact.net/2013/01/23/expert-shale-gas-boom-a-bubble-about-to-pop/

    • A basic issue with this statement is that if Mr. Berman can’t ‘do the arithmetic’ on global warming, then why should someone trust his contrarian view on shale gas?

      At least, if you’re not cherry-picking viewpoints to prop up Peak Oil theories…

      • Tom Lewis says:

        The answer to your first question is: because he is an expert on shale gas who works for the industry. Which is also the response to your second statement, about “cherry picking.”

    • Sasparilla says:

      Currently the shale gas industry is going through the effects of a bubble, its been a bubble of overproduction (so that prices went below costs) and now producers are being shaken out of the market (the ones that could switch to oil have done so) – that’s why natural gas prices in the U.S. are so low.

      I’d love it if gas fracking was just a flash in the pan, but it isn’t, the tech used for fracking works and once the oversupply is worked off (we don’t have a way to export the oversupply or prices would be way up there) the industry will be right back increasing production again.

      • That’s unfortunately correct, Sasp. We can’t wish fracking away. It does work. The huge increase in US gas production over the past 5 years speaks for itself. Yes, there is a shakeout, but it’s pure opportunity for the majors. They have the scale and discipline to manage this vast resource to maximimize its commercial potential–setting aside its environmental issues.

        Berman has been way off the mark from the beginning. His are the comments of a reflexive contrarian looking for publicity, playing to those who want his message to be true. Believing these sorts of comments about shale gas reflects a mirror-image bias of those who believe Patrick Michaels about climate.

        Shale gas is here to stay, not only in this country but around the world. It’s almost literally as common as dirt, and a major challenge to renewables here in the US.

        The statement at the end of the article that it’s not all bad–that some coal will be displaced by gas–is a wan hope indeed. It’s all additive. We can’t reduce GHG emissions by expanding fossil fuel production of any sort.

        It’s the rule of holes: when you find yourself too deep, Step 1 is stop digging.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Coal is facing increasing obstacles in Oz because of the drop in price, difficulty in obtaining financing and community opposition which is revving up. Certainly, the leading projects in the Galilee basin have been delayed about 12 months so far, ME

    • quokka says:

      Sure, growth in coal production in Australia may slacken off a bit. Commodity markets have their ups and downs, but the big picture is still very much up. Maybe all these 14 projects won’t all go full steam ahead immediately but that doesn’t mean they won’t plough ahead sometime.

      The real message here is that there are no fossil fuel resource constraints that are going to save the climate. Peak oil in any immediate sense probably isn’t. Today’s announcement of potentially huge oil find in South Australia just underlines that. Numbers being thrown around are the same ballpark as for Canada. We shall see how this develops, but it’s not looking good for peak oil this decade.

    • Superman1 says:

      Well, here’s the latest oil find in Australia-$20T (http://now.msn.com/trillions-in-oil-discovered-in-australian-outback). Still believe that we’ll get voluntary CO2 emissions reduction from the Aussies?

  5. Noel Kendall says:

    I am now more resolved than ever to keep cycling as a way of life. Even today, when it was -20, I still cycled to work and back. 25km, that’s a lot of carbon saved right here. I could use some help with expenses related to blogging and cycling to help solve global warming. Donations gratefully received, and used solely to support my low carbon lifestyle. You can help me help the planet here.

  6. Paul Klinkman says:

    I’m trying to see what the USA alone is in for. I count 700 megatons a year of new carbon production (methane leaks are extra) in the lower 48 — bombs away!

    Then under “Arctic” I see yet another 520 megatons a year. How much of that is Alaskan territorial hydrocarbons and how much Russian? Shell Oil wants to get their leaky drilling rig, the S. S. Gilligan’s Island, back into action off the North Slope of Alaska ASAP.

  7. Leif says:

    Four or 5 big tugs have arrived in the bay with the Kulluk. I would guess Shell is getting ready to make the tow to Seattle. Keep an eye on the “Aiviq” on AIS.

  8. Vic says:

    More incoming!

    Announced today, a major new shale oil discovery in Australia is said to contain up to 233 billion barrels of oil worth up to $20 trillion.

    The CEO is very excited: “So if you took the 233 billion, well, you’re talking Saudi Arabia numbers. It’s massive, it’s just huge.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-24/major-oil-discovery-in-outback-sa/4481982

    • ozajh says:

      It is going to be VERY difficult politically to argue against development of this resource. It’s in a basically uninhabited desert.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        That’s what they said before they let the bombs off at Maralinga and irradiated the Spinifex people. I’ve worked with some of the descendants of those people who were moved to WA – will there be no end to this mindless, terra nullius destruction? ME

    • mikkel says:

      underlying rock formations “are rich in oil and gas-prone kerogen”.

      They’re talking about “oil shale” (not oil in shale, i.e. tight oil) and by that metric the US would have 2 trillion barrels. The 3.5 billion barrels of tight oil is probably more realistic…which the company is now stating

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        They’ll probably suck in a few patsies, make a quick buck, and adopt a low profile. Minerals exploration in Australia is shonkiness exemplified. I smelleth another Poseidon.

      • an estonian says:

        One good news is that the Utah oil shale is as difficult to commercialize as it used to be. Rumours have that the Estonian Energy has serious difficulties to modify their process tech to process Utah (and Jordanian) oil shale. It could be a writeoff, which is bad for Estonia, but good for the planet.

  9. Endofmore says:

    the commercial system that we are locked into demands that we sustain employment by selling more product of every kind, the faster we produce and sell it, the richer everyone will be.
    if China doesn’t ramp up its production, for instance, the Chinese people will overthrow the government and install another one that WILL ramp up production. If the Australian government decided to leave their oil where it is, the same thing would happen. Politicians want to keep their jobs, so do what pleases the mass of people. It really is that simple. They want employment, hydrocarbon fuel provides that. People have to be kept happy, every though their happiness is leading to self destruction

    • Icarus62 says:

      Sad but true. The uncomfortable fact is that no country is going to leave valuable fossil fuels untapped unless we can find a source of energy which is better in all respects, so that it’s simply not economically viable to get those fossil fuels out of the ground. In terms of the climate impact, it makes little difference whether we burn those fuels over 20 years, 50 years or 100 years – the resultant climate change will be the same sooner or later.

  10. BillD says:

    The added gas and oil that will be released by fracking will be very difficult to stop and is a very discouraging. A substantial carbon tax seems to be earth’s only chance. As a first step, we can only hope that Australia and the US don’t dramatically increase coal exports. If only the Chinese people developed a strong environmental concern.

  11. _Flin_ says:

    Bomb No. 15:
    “Brisbane company Linc Energy yesterday released two reports, based on drilling and seismic exploration, estimating the amount of oil in the as yet untapped Arckaringa Basin surrounding Coober Pedy ranging from 3.5 billion to 233 billion barrels of oil”.

    Not much if it is 3.5 billion, on the higher end it is bomb no.15

    Read more: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/business/companies/trillion-shale-oil-find-surrounding-coober-pedy-can-fuel-australia/story-fnda1bsz-1226560401043#ixzz2ItW3PYqV

  12. Joan Savage says:

    China’s mega-version of the Keystone XL is a dedicated rail system for coal transport from the western provinces.

    • Joan Savage says:

      Coal industry article (August 2012) on the coal-dedicated rail system:

      http://en.sxcoal.com/79027/NewsShow.html

      “Constructions of multiple coal-dedicated railroads are expected to materially ease the long-standing bottleneck constraining the transportation of coal from western production areas to end users in the east and the south. 
      A number of projects will be under construction this year, including the key Ningxi (Xi’an- Shanghai) double track and the line from western Inner Mongolia to Jiangxi (200 Mtpa), according to the 2012 implementation program of the coal industry’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) recently released by the National Development and Reform Commission.
      The government has set a plan to achieve 3 billion tonnes of rail coal transporting capacity during the 2011-2015 period, basically meeting the demand of rail transportation (2.6 billion tonnes or 66.7% of expected 2015 output of 3.9 billion tonnes), according to the plan issued by the NDRC in Mar.”

    • Joan Savage says:

      Bloomberg’s Sarah Chen (Jan 15, 2013) on the coal-dedicated rail:

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-16/china-to-boost-coal-rail-capacity-after-delays-bernstein-says.html

      “China will add 18 percent more coal- transporting rail capacity this year than initially forecast, piling downward pressure on the price of the fuel, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.”

  13. Joan Savage says:

    The map/diagram republished in the Washington Post is from the report by Greenpeace.

  14. Joan Savage says:

    “The two biggest offenders in the report were China’s plan to ramp up new coal production, creating an additional 1,400 megatons of CO2 emissions a year, and Australia’s plan to export 760 new megatons of coal per year.”

    This is somewhat misleading, as a CO2 and coal conversion is lacking.

    Using a 2.86 conversion from mass of coal to CO2, to make an apples-to-apples comparison:

    China, additional 1,400 mT CO2 emissions
    Australia, additional 2,173 mT CO2 emissions

    or
    China, additional 490 mT coal
    Australia, additional 760 mT coal

    That said, those estimates obviously could be updated, given the several inputs from us commenters.

    • Joan Savage says:

      The original report compared CO2 emissions to CO2 emissions, so please correct your statement to read something like:

      The two biggest offenders in the report were China’s plan to ramp up new coal production, creating an additional 1,400 megatons of CO2 emissions a year, and Australia’s plan to export [the equivalent of] 760 new megatons of [carbon dioxide / crossout coal] per year.

  15. Asdfgh says:

    “The energy produced by these projects won’t necessarily add on linearly to each other, or to the energy already being produced by fossil fuels. Natural gas from one project could undercut the need for coal from another project, for instance. Or it could displace coal consumption already occurring — a net reduction in carbon output, in the latter instance. (Of course, these projects could also displace energy being produced from renewables. A problem, to put it mildly.)”

    Of course, in addition to renewables, cheap fossil fuels can and do also displace nuclear power, another low carbon energy technology. Just thought I would mention it, since you for some reason did not.

  16. Taken one at a time, each of these 13 carbon bombs illustrate an energy source we would like to avoid. But cutting down on one increases demand on the others. Energy is nearly fungible, like money. Natural gas fracking reduces coal consumption for electric power, but the coal is then exported to China. We can not solve the problem by negativity — banning or taxing certain carbon energy sources. We need to provide better alternatives, such as advanced nuclear power. Wind and solar power are way to expensive and too intermittent to displace coal, peat, natural gas, etc. They cost 3X today’s energy. The only way to convince the world to convert to non-carbon sources is to provide a less expensive source. That source can be the thorium molten salt reactor. Please check the new book THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, described at http://www.thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com.

    • Superman1 says:

      When do we accept the fact that the game is over? All the plans and actions and discoveries we see lead in the direction of more fossil use, not less. This, at a time when we have to reduce fossil fuel use drastically, according to Kevin Anderson.

  17. Solar Jim says:

    RE: “Limiting global emissions between 2010 and 2050 to 1,050 gigatons of CO2-equivalent pollution should give us a 75 percent chance of staying under a two degree rise,”

    Based on my study of climate science, and CP posts, this is off by an order of magnitude. Try a 0 – 7.5% chance if humanity releases another trillion tons of carbonic acid gas. Actually, we are likely headed to two degrees already, especially considering thermal lag and present radiative forcing.