"Unfracking is a method of plugging orphan wells using biochar."
— Bloomberg Green Feb 23, 2023
A few years ago I was in a press conference at a UN COP and representatives of the IPCC were running through the numbers — greenhouse gas emissions were up, especially methane. None of the guardrails agreed to in earlier conferences seem to be working. They were either ignored, gaslighted, or kicked down the road. I rose and asked a question.
How much of this rise is from fugitive methane leaking from pipelines, retired but uncapped wells, and unconventional oil and gas (a.k.a. fracking)?They said they didn’t know but did not consider those to be major factors. Mic drop.
Since then IPCC has learned much more about fugitive methane. New IR satellite imaging has allowed scientists to map methane hotspots around the world. The next generation of remote sensors in space, authorized by recent legislation, will pinpoint sources and quantify volumes to fine detail. Still, I was recently on a call with experts in this area and they tell me the vast majority of methane emissions today — now rising at an unprecedented clip — can be traced to their origins — human or “natural” — by molecular signature. The blip we see comes from sources other than the oil and gas industry or cattle feedlots.
That answer is disturbing. If the sharp rise of methane in the atmosphere is from natural sources, it means that Earth systems have crossed tipping points we have been warned about — permafrost melt; shallow coastal clathrates; accelerated microbial activity from changing weather, soil and water conditions. If the sharp rise being observed is from fracking and pipeline leakage, we are in for it because fracking is rapidly expanding to parts of the world and new pipelines are all the rage. Ones in war zones, like the Nordstream II, are especially concerning.
Energy Infrastructure as Target
Nordstream had 750 miles of methane — 300 million cubic meters — under pressure that was released when it was ruptured by a coordinated NATO bombing to prevent European countries from buying Russian gas. That amount of methane will have about the same global warming over a 100-year timeframe as about 6 million tons of carbon dioxide.
That’s roughly on par with the amount of CO2 emitted in a year by mid-sized cities such as Havana, or Helsinki or Dayton, Ohio.
As it turned out, concern that Europeans would lose their resolve to adhere to sanctions on Russia in the gales of General Winter were misplaced. Germany completely eliminated its dependence on Gasprom by speeding up its green power conversion and buying more from Norway. No one had to freeze in the dark. There was no need to slow the decommissioning of toxic and target-prone nukes. There was no need to blow up Nordstream II.
28 Sep Daily Mail: Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission, this morning vowed the ‘strongest possible response’ to what she called ‘sabotage’ of the pipelines — but stopped short of directly blaming Russia. It was also revealed last night that the CIA warned weeks ago the pipes could be attacked after agents sent a ‘strategic warning’ to European allies including Germany, sources told Der Spiegel last night, though they refused to say whether Russia was identified as a culprit. The warning was not specific and did not pinpoint a time or location for an attack, the New York Times added. However, heavy suspicion for the attack has fallen on the Kremlin — with European officials briefing the Washington Post last night that ‘no-one is thinking this is anything other than Russian sabotage’.
The US, Mexico, Nigeria, China and other countries are littered with abandoned oil and gas wells that have no owner and are a major source of methane emissions. High populations of such orphans are located in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, New York State, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois and New Mexico. These abandoned wells also create an unacceptably high risk of toxic chemical exposure and water and air quality contamination in the communities where they are located. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane emissions from over 2 million inactive, unplugged wells, of which documented orphan wells are a subset, produce the equivalent of 2 to 5 million cars. (EDF 2022)
Unfracking is a method of plugging orphan wells using biochar. Mixed into a gravel and water slurry, biochar makes a stronger plug, absorbs methane, nitrous oxide and other gases, and mitigates the ongoing climate effects of leaking wells by locking up photosynthetic carbon for thousands of years. It takes carbon from the air and sends it down a deep well shaft. It can also produce energy, since pyrolysis of biomass generates available heat that can run turbines.
— Open Air
New state legislation in Colorado will encourage biochar use in local well plugging. This legislation can be adapted and advanced in other orphan-well heavy states and countries.
On Thursday February 23, 2023, OpenAir, a grassroots volunteer collective dedicated to advancing carbon removal technologies, hosted a free webinar on fugitive methane solutions using biochar. We can close with a short video they posted to their website. The webinar was recorded and should be available soon.
Now wouldn’t it have been nice if we had plugged the Nordstream II with biochar before we blew it up?
The Green Road is helping these places grow their own food, and raising money to acquire farm machinery and seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.
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The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed climate change, a juggernaut threat to all life, humans included. We had a trial run at emergency problem-solving on a global scale with COVID — and we failed. 6.7 million people, and counting, have died. We ignored well-laid plans to isolate and contact trace early cases; overloaded our ICUs; parked morgue trucks on the streets; incinerated bodies until the smoke obscured our cities as much as the raging wildfires. We set back our children’s education and mental health. We virtualized the work week until few wanted to return to their open-plan cubicle offices. We invented and produced tests and vaccines faster than anyone thought possible but then we hoarded them for the wealthy and denied them to two-thirds of the world, who became the Petri-plates for new variants. SARS jumped from people to dogs and cats to field mice. The modern world took a masterclass in how abysmally, unbelievably, shockingly bad we could fail, despite our amazing science, vast wealth, and singular talents as a species.
Having failed so dramatically, so convincingly, with such breathtaking ineptitude, do we imagine we will now do better with climate? Having demonstrated such extreme disorientation in the face of a few simple strands of RNA, do we imagine we can call upon some magic power that will change all that for planetary-ecosystem-destroying climate change?
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