All posts by Brady Blackburn

School of Media and Journalism

Your Lamb Chops Might Come From a Solar Farm

Yes, you heard that right. If you’ve shopped at Whole Foods recently, you might have seen lamb from one of North Carolina’s many solar farms.

O2 emc is one of many solar companies based in North Carolina. Its solar installations double as grazing fields for sheep and other livestock.  This innovative model promotes renewable energy while also tackling one of the most pressing problems in North Carolina: rural revitalization.

Logan Stephens is the Project Development Manager at O2 emc.  He sat down and talked about the company’s projects, goals, and rural development efforts.

What is O2 emc’s scope?

“All of our projects that are commissioned are in North Carolina,” said Stephens.  “But we are starting to look at other states in the Southeast.”

Stephens said that O2 emc commissioned its 15th solar project this year.  It is growing fast.  In the five years since he began working for the company, it has grown from just one or two employees to around ten now.

What makes O2 emc stand out from other power companies?

O2 emc takes a unique approach to its solar farms.  It strives to use land as efficiently as possible by pairing solar installations with agriculture and livestock.

“On every project we’re working with a local farmer to take care of the site,” said Stephens.  “The primary method for that is of course the sheep, which do very well in North Carolina.”

By planting grass on the land where the solar farms are installed, the areas can double as grazing fields for livestock.  This allows the land to serve a double purpose.  The solar panels produce clean electricity while the livestock provide sustainable, free-range food.

“We see it as the most sustainable and even cost effective way to maintain the grounds if its done correctly,” Stephens said.

Logan Stephens is the Project Development Manager at O2 Energies
Logan Stephens is the Project Development Manager at O2 emc

What are the benefits of this solar farm pairing model?

Stephens said that O2 emc’s solar farm-livestock farm pairings work to benefit both the solar company and the farmers involved.

“The panels themselves actually provide some shelter for the animals when it’s raining or when it gets hot,” said Stephens.

The animals graze and keep the grass short, which keeps it from shading the solar panels and decreasing on the energy they produce.  In turn, the farmer gets a field that’s already been planted with grass and already has a fence around it.  The solar panels themselves provide shelter for the livestock on hot or rainy days.

How do O2 emc’s installations help local communities?

O2 emc pays special attention to the local communities where it works.  Every installation has a local focus from beginning to end.

“O2 has a company motto that’s, ‘Solar development, local impact,'” said Stephens.  “It’s really core to everything we do.”

O2 emc works with a group called Sun Raised Farms, a network of NC farmers.  Through this partnership, O2 emc identifies local farmers to work with throughout the process of an installation.

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“We also try to hire as much as we can locally during construction,” said Stephens.  “So there’s two benefits–agriculture, construction jobs.  And then third would be the tax revenue for the local county or the town depending on where the project’s located–sometimes both.”

Tax revenue from a solar farm can be a huge source of revenue for local governments.  Agricultural land is subject to tax exemptions that solar farms are not, so when a solar farm is installed, tax revenue shoots through the roof.

“A five megawatt project could contribute as mush as $2 or $3 million to the local property tax base compared to a piece of land that may have only had a $100,000 tax value with an agricultural tax exemption,” said Stephens.

Recently in NC, there has been a backlash against solar energy.  How does O2 respond to concerns raised about their projects?

“When we go through the zoning process for a project, there’s typically a public hearing, so I’ll go and represent O2 on behalf of the project,” said Stephens.  “It’s my job to answer those concerns as they come up.”

He said that there is a lot of misinformation floating around currently, so it is very important for O2 emc to be present and answer any questions that people may have.

“At the end of the day, these projects are about as low of an impact on the land as you could possibly imagine for a development of this scale.  We have little to no impermeable surfaces being created on site,” said Stephens.  “This means at the end of the useful life of the solar farm, all of the equipment can be taken up out of the ground and the land can be returned to its previous use.”

Looking forward, what is the future of this model of paired solar-agriculture land use?

Stephens said O2 emc’s growth has historically benefited from a favorable policy structure.

“North Carolina was number two in the country last year behind California in terms of the number of megawatts of solar installed, which is fantastic,” he said. “A lot of that had to do with a very forward-thinking policy that was put in place in 2007, the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which created for the first time the requirement for utilities to start purchasing energy from renewable and energy efficient sources.”

“So, in a market that’s by nature a regulated monopoly, all of a sudden there is an opportunity for small companies like us to participate in the electric power generation sector and to compete with the traditional, large, centralized coal and nuclear—for the most part—power plants,” Stephens said.

As far as the future goes, Stephens thinks that there is a big bonus to being a local company.

“We’re not sending money to the Midwest to purchase coal. We’re not sending it to West Virginia to bring in fuel for a coal power plant,” he said. “We’re making that investment here, and for us it’s just extremely important to try to maximize the local impact of what we’re doing.”

So where can I get some of this solar farm lamb?

Whole Foods partners with Sun Raised Farms, and it sells lamb from O2 emc’s solar farms.  You can also find a variety recipes to cook with the meat on Sun Raised Farms‘ website.

 

Kinston: NC’s Innovative Rural Development Hotspot

Early Saturday morning of the first week in April, long before the sun peeked over the horizon, my alarm jarred me awake. Why on Earth would I get up so early on my one day off? To hop on a bus to Kinston, North Carolina, that was leaving town hours before I usually even manage to crawl out of bed.

Located on the Neuse River, 30 miles south of Greenville, North Carolina, Kinston is a hotbed of innovative and sustainable development. I traveled there with a group of UNC students to tour the town and document its use of renewable energy.

When the textile and tobacco industries left North Carolina in the 1990s, so did a major share of Kinston’s economy. On top of that, severe back-to-back flooding in 1996 and 1999 intensified the downturn.

Today, Kinston is back on its feet, touting a thriving arts district and tourism industry. The town even hosts a reality TV show focused on the local restaurant “Chef and the Farmer.”

View of a solar farm along the highway into Kinston
View of a solar farm along the highway into Kinston.

As it rebuilds, Kinston is paying special attention to clean energy. There are two solar farms along the highway into Kinston that provide the town with renewable energy.

Solar farms provide clean, renewable energy, and they can also be an economic boon for farmers. Installations can provide additional forms of income, and the diversification can help stabilize farmers’ often-volatile income streams.

Solar energy is a theme in Kinston. Panel sightings don’t stop with the solar farms along the outskirts. Installations can be found right in the middle of town as well.

Mother Earth Brewing is one of Kinston's main attractions.
Mother Earth Brewing is one of Kinston’s main attractions.

The Mother Earth Brewing Company, as its name suggests, pays special attention to their relationship with our planet. The building sports a six-kilowatt solar array that provides all of the electricity for its tap room and beer garden.

Mother Earth is the first and only LEED Gold certified brewery in the United States. A gold certification is the second highest ranking that a building can achieve for its sustainability.

Solar panels above Mother Earth Brewing's Beer Garden and Tap Room.
Solar panels above Mother Earth Brewing’s Beer Garden and Tap Room.

Mother Earth’s sustainable practices don’t stop there. It recycles its brewing grains by giving them to farmers to use as animal feed, and it donates grain bags to the Forest Service for use in replanting trees.

Dondi Smith, manager of Leon Thomas Treasures in downtown Kinston, said that the brewery played a major role in starting the recent wave of revitalization.

Smith said that the development trends today have directly progressed from the opening of Mother Earth and the Chef and the Farmer in the early 2000’s.

Handmade soaps from a local artist sold in Smith's shop.
Handmade soaps from a local artist sold in Smith’s shop.

Steven Hill, who owns Mother Earth, has also played an important role in fostering Kinston’s arts district.

Smith said that Hill bought about 50 homes in Kinston’s historical district. He remodeled the homes and rents them out at affordable prices to young artists.

According to Smith, the influx of artists to this community that Hill created has been great for Kinston’s economy. The artists start businesses selling their work that they run out of their homes.

The artists also sell their wares to local businesses. Smith’s store sells local handmade soaps, for example.

“So in this span of about seven years, we have just seen this explosion of growth,” she said.

A series of murals at Kinston's Music Park, part of NC's African American Music Trails.
A series of murals at Kinston’s Music Park, part of NC’s African American Music Trails.

Kinston’s history is rich in the arts. One of the many tourist attractions that bring people to the town is the Kinston Music Park, part of the African American Music Trails of North Carolina. The park pays homage to musicians like Louis Armstrong who played concerts there as well as people like the members of James Brown’s band who called Kinston home.

Small solar panels that power the lighting at Kinston's Music Park.
Small solar panels that power the lighting at Kinston’s Music Park.

Lighting for the Music Park is powered by a series of small solar panels. Local energy retailer Cherry Energy provided the panels for the park.

Cherry Energy sells everything from gasoline to solar panels. They sold the rooftop panels to Mother Earth Brewing, and they donated panels to the local farmers market.

Solar panel-topped benches at the farmers market in Kinston.
Solar panel-topped benches at the farmers market in Kinston.

Kinston’s farmers market has been around since 1979, but has seen an increase in activity in recent years.

Local food movements not only help farmers sell their wares, but they also cut down on pollution. Farmers reduce their emissions by not having to ship their produce hundreds of miles to big-name grocery retailers.

A local farmer's truck at the Kinston farmers market.
A local farmer’s truck at the Kinston farmers market.

Kinston’s local food movement started with the farmers market in 1979. It has experienced a lot of activity since the Chef and the Farmer opened in 2006.

A box of fresh collards at the Kinston farmers market.
A box of fresh collards at the Kinston farmers market.

The Chef and the Farmer, owned by Vivian Howard and her husband Benjamin Knight, has become Kinston’s prize jewel. The restaurant is a tourist hotspot, and even hosts the PBS reality show “A Chef’s Life.”

A menu from the Chef and the Farmer restaurant.
A menu from the Chef and the Farmer restaurant.

The Chef and the Farmer serves high-quality food completely created from local ingredients. The restaurant supports local growers in this way, and it highlights the quantity and diversity of foods that can be found so close to home.

Kinston’s rural revitalization efforts draw from many different sources. Between the arts movement, local food efforts, and renewable energy installations, Kinston is transforming into a thriving depiction of the future of rural North Carolina.

The Mean Green Rural Development Machine

Once upon a time, North Carolina’s rural economies thrived off of textiles and tobacco.  Today, a new industry is at the helm.  The solar energy industry is taking North Carolina’s small towns by storm, creating jobs and stimulating growth.

Until the 1990’s, the textile and tobacco industries were the backbone of North Carolina’s economy.  Public awareness of the health risks associated with smoking increased towards the end of the 20th century, however.  Simultaneously, with the help of cheap labor, other countries began to outcompete domestic textile production.

The turn of the century brought an economic vacuum to rural North Carolina as the state’s dominant industries collapsed.  Today, we can see the effects in what many deem the “rural-urban divide.”

Headlines from the Citizen Times, the News & Observer, Time Warner Cable News, the Daily Tar Heel, and WRAL
Headlines from the Citizen Times, the News & Observer, Time Warner Cable News, the Daily Tar Heel, and WRAL

Basically, the rural-urban divide is the economic disparity resulting from the loss of labor demand in rural areas.  Without the jobs that the textile and tobacco industries offered, those who could afford it began moving to larger urban cities to find work.

Urban flight only worsened the economic state of rural North Carolina.  Not only did rural communities lack jobs, they were also losing their labor force.

But a new trend is beginning to appear.  Rural towns are finding new, innovative ways to foster Untitled2development, and renewable energy is at the forefront of these efforts.

Here’s how renewable energy is a major key to the future of rural North Carolina:

Rural areas are uniquely suited for renewable success

If there is one thing that North Carolina has plenty of, it’s sunlight.  The state is 26th in the nation in hours of sunlight per year.

26th in sunlight might not sound that great, but it equates to more than one and a half times the amount of sunlight that hits Germany.  And Germans can get as much as 35% of their energy from solar panels on a good day.

North Carolina currently gets around 6.6% of its energy from renewables, so we have plenty of room to grow.

Rural North Carolina has an abundance of farmland as well, which is prime real estate for large-scale solar installations.  This alternate use for land does come with its own problems, however, specifically the issue of decreased food production.  Solar companies are figuring out ways around this, and are already implementing their ideas throughout North Carolina.

One North Carolina company’s ‘shear factor’ aims to help farmers and energy producers, and their ideas aren’t half baaaaad.

O2 emc is  making strides to avoid decreasing food production while increasing North Carolina’s solar capacity.  Their solar farms double as grazing fields for sheep and other livestock.

The panels on these farms provide shade for the animals, and the grazers reduce the need for lawnmowers.  As a result, landowners benefit from two income streams on one plot of land.

This kind of mixed-use land allows farmers to increase the productivity of their land, and the different income streams stabilize fluctuations in their incomes.

Diversified income sources are good, especially for farmers

Farmers face uncertain output and fluctuating market prices for their goods.  A particularly bad year could spell disaster.  By installing solar panels, farmers can profit by selling that energy to the grid, even in bad harvest years.

“You can make more money right now per acre on solar panels on your property than you can by growing tobacco,” said Tammy Kelly, County Extension Director at the Lenoir County Center in Kinston, North Carolina.

Farmers can turn a good profit from solar installations and in turn provide clean energy for themselves and their communities.

Renewable energy plays an essential role in the success of revitalization efforts in Kinston, North Carolina.

In Kinston, renewables are everywhere.  Solar farms flank the highway into town, and even the downtown area touts arrays of rooftop panels.

Kinston has combined support for a growing arts district, a local food movement, and renewable energy to fuel their development.  By taking so many different approaches, the town is seeing many benefits.

Thanks to the arts district and locally-sourced restaurants, tourism has become a major source of income for Kinston.  The push for local food benefits the farmers who don’t have to ship their goods long distances to sell.  Plus, shorter travel distances cuts down on the fossil fuels burned to bring the food from the farm to the table.

With the incorporation of renewables, owners save money on their electricity bills and provide energy to the community.  In total, Kinston’s efforts have successfully cut costs and made the town a marketable tourist attraction.

 

This Year, Vote for an Energy Revolution

Photo by Theresa Thompson. http://bit.ly/1XZUoC7
Photo by Theresa Thompson

Primary season is in full swing. The general election is coming up in November, and North Carolina has already finished round one of its two primaries.

Climate change is a hot topic among candidates, and is proving to be an increasingly divisive issue. Opinions range from complete denial to climate change as the most pressing issue of our time.

The direction the US will take in mitigating the issue will be largely determined by our elected officials. Policy will be an important factor in fueling a switch to renewable energy production.

Here’s why you should know candidates’ stances before voting.

Climate change is real and caused by humans

More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are contributing to climate change.

Every year in the 2000s has made the list of the 16 hottest years on record. Along with that, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have exceeded 400 parts per million. Historically, carbon dioxide levels have fluctuated but never exceeded 300 parts per million until now.

There are numerous other statistics pointing towards the reality of climate change. The bottom line is that the experts agree that it is a problem and we need to fix it.

A big problem that needs a big solution

In 2015, 195 countries came together in Paris to form the 2015 Paris Agreement.  The agreement set a goal to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan set a goal of a 32 percent emissions reduction by 2030.

The Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement gave the US tough goals that will require innovative and comprehensive solutions.

The electric industry is one of many targets. Electricity production in the U.S. is responsible for 31 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal power plants are responsible for a significant portion of US emissions. Coal-burning power plants today only generate 39 percent of the nation’s electricity but produce 77 percent of the sector’s emissions.

But individuals have little opportunity to demand change in such a large industry.

In the electric industry, there are groundbreaking technologies that have the potential to take over coal’s production while cutting emissions. These technologies include renewables like wind and solar, battery storage and high-efficiency transmission lines.

The industries for these new products are growing and costs are dropping. Proper government incentives can motivate utilities to replace coal plants with newer, cleaner production facilities.

Market forces alone won’t mitigate climate change

Renewable energy technologies are reaching large enough scales to grow without government assistance. While very good news for the renewable energy industry, it still isn’t enough.

The goals set by experts in order to mitigate climate change require vast changes in the coming decades. The market for renewables is growing, but not fast enough to quickly and effectively minimize pollution.

NC General Assembly Representative Graig Meyer said that markets need government support to effectively combat climate change.

“We really only have two sectors that can do this—government and private markets,” Meyer said. “The markets do not have an incentive to do this because the short term costs limit profits. So the government has to step in.”

NC Representative Verla Insko said something similar.

“The market’s not a perfect solution for this kind of problem,” she said. “The role of government is to provide solutions that the market can’t.”

Subsidies and tax credits can provide a multitude of benefits

Along with emissions reductions, government policies promoting renewable energy can work wonders for the economy. There are jobs being created in production, assembly, maintenance, and all other aspects of renewables. Plus, all of the jobs can be created here in the US.

For example, in North Carolina, there are more than 188 companies employing around 6,000 people in the solar industry.

Meyer said that environmental government policy can promote economic development.

“All across North Carolina we see solar farms producing income for rural landowners,” he said. “Companies developing new technologies are creating employment growth.”

Germany is an example of successful environmental policy.  The Germans enacted strict legislation targeting carbon emissions.  Their laws resulted in reduced carbon emissions as well as job and business growth.

Andreas von Schoenberg, a German environmental consultant, said there are 170,000 German clean technology businesses.  These businesses collectively employ 900,000 people, in a country a quarter the size of the US.

Von Schoenberg said that Germany’s environmental policy created the necessary environment for the clean technology industry to thrive.

 

The renewable energy industry is leaving the government in the dust

Panelists at the NC Clean Tech Summit Clean Energy Policies in the Southeast Panel. Left to right: Stuart Pearman, James Kerr, Brian O’Hara, Ivan Urlaub, Kendal Bowman
Panelists at the NC Clean Tech Summit Clean Energy Policies in the Southeast Panel.
Left to right: Stuart Pearman, James Kerr, Brian O’Hara, Ivan Urlaub, Kendal Bowman

The ongoing fight over climate change is one of the most polarizing political debates of our time.  ‘Pro-renewable energy Republican’ is now synonymous with ‘parachute-less skydiver.’  ‘Oil-baron Democrat’ holds a similar stigma; partisanship is now the norm.

At the end of 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly allowed the renewable energy tax credit to expire. A 2015 bill extended the credit for projects already underway, but only for one additional year. The credit, equal to 35 percent of an installation’s cost, was a major driver for the solar industry in North Carolina.

Now, the renewable energy portfolio standard, the state’s other major piece of environmental legislation, is under attack.

The portfolio standard requires electric utilities to supply 12.5 percent of electricity sales through renewable energy resources. Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, supported the legislation, but nevertheless, it has fallen into the same battlefield that swallowed the tax credit.

“I think you can sum it all up to say that Republicans are against anything Democrats are for, and I think that Democrats are probably the same way to some degree,” said Jay Faison.

Faison, founder of the ClearPath Foundation and self-proclaimed conservative, spoke about policy issues and clean technology investment at this year’s NC Clean Tech Summit. CEO and co-founder of Generate Capital Scott Jacobs was another speaker at the summit.

Jacobs said that climate change has become “a politicized moniker, which is ridiculous.” He said, “If you went to a doctor, who—you went to tell the doctor you had some symptoms that were problematic—and that doctor, and 99 more doctors, all said the same thing to you which is, ‘Take this pill,’ would you take the pill? Or would you say, ‘I’m not going to listen to doctors’?”

Faison, Jacobs, and others raised an important point at the summit: While the government is caught up in the climate change debate, the renewable energy market is moving ahead.

Here’s why the free market is taking the reins:

Renewables are rapidly approaching, reaching, and passing grid parity

When using renewable energy costs the same as purchasing energy from the grid, the renewable has reached grid parity. In North Carolina and across the country, renewables, especially solar and wind, are approaching this milestone.

“The pace of change is more rapid in the world of resources than its ever been,” said Jacobs.

In the United States, the cost of utility scale solar on average has actually dropped to 5¢ per kilowatt hour (Duke Energy’s current rate is 9.36¢ per kilowatt hour). The cost of residential rooftop solar is higher, but not by much, and the prices are continuing to drop.

Large scale renewable installations are big enough to be profitable without subsidies

The expiration of the renewable energy tax credit “killed residential and small solar in the state,” said Joel Olsen, founder of O2 Energies.

Solar farm at Denver National Airport. Photo by NREL.

Olsen was also a panelist at the NC Clean Tech Summit this year. He said that it no longer makes economic sense to install small-scale rooftop solar systems. The timeline to recover the costs has just become too large without the tax credit.

Even having reached grid parity, building a large-scale solar farm involves huge upfront costs.  This is where the tax credit came into play, and where it will no longer help.

Regardless of the hit, however, the solar industry has survived. Olsen’s company specializes in utility-scale solar farms, which are still profitable because of their size. According to Olsen, his company only had to make slight changes to their business model to continue installing solar in NC.

Without the tax credit, it will be hard to economically justify putting solar panels on your home. Solar companies and investors, however, can still focus on large-scale solar farms, which can power hundreds of homes.

The private industry is adopting a long-term outlook

“There’s a ‘short term-ism’ in politics,” said Jacobs.  “we have people in a constant election cycle, and in that constant election cycle they are constantly raising money for those elections, those campaigns.”

Jacobs compared this cycle in politics to CEOs who are more concerned with quarterly earnings than whether or not they will still be profitable in ten or twenty years. He said that when you take a longer term outlook, renewable energy becomes a much more lucrative opportunity.

Renewable energy infrastructure involves large upfront costs.  When those costs are spread out over the lifetime of the infrastructure, they are much less daunting.

Jacobs, Faison, and others made spreading the upfront costs of renewable energy infrastructure their business.  Their investment companies pay the initial costs, allowing the investors and homeowners to pay them back over time.

New technology will make it possible for renewables to become mainstream forms of energy generation

The 20-megawatt Gemasolar concentrating solar power plant, in Fuentes de Andalucia, Spain, is the first such plant to use molten salt technology for thermal storage.
The Gemasolar power plant in Fuentes de Andalucia, Spain is the first to use molten salt technology.  Photo by Greg Glatzmaier, NREL

Energy storage technology, from molten salt towers to Tesla’s home battery systems, is opening new doors for renewable energy. Energy storage has the potential to allow renewables to constantly produce energy. This technology can allow solar to power your home at night, and wind turbines to supply electricity when the wind isn’t blowing.

Investors will continue to invest in renewable energy

Truman Semans, a panel moderator at the NC Clean Tech Summit, explained why renewable energy investment will continue.  He described to the audience a meeting he had with the Pacific Pension and Investment Group.

“A significant percentage of them did not believe in climate change, but a much greater percentage of them, when asked, said ‘Of course I’m going to take account of climate change in my investing because, whether I believe in it or not, the markets believe in it,” said Semans.

How Much do UNC Students Know About Fracking?

The fracking battle has been one of the loudest environmental fights in past years in North Carolina.  Lobbyists worked hard to promote their industry, and groups like Frack Free NC and NC Citizens against Fracking emerged to counter their efforts.  Many other organizations, including the NAACP, joined the fight as well, calling on the NC government to keep the frackers out.

In 2014, Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation legalizing the controversial method of harnessing natural gas resources.  Since then, the industry has stalled.  To date there are no fracking operations in NC.

UNC-Chapel Hill students were right in the middle of the fight.  In the months leading up to fracking’s legalization, it was hard to walk through campus without seeing anti-fracking signs or being asked to sign a petition.  One and a half years after legalization, with the potential for fracking still looming in NC, what do UNC-CH students know about the industry?

 

 

While five students is not a representative sample of UNC-CH, it does raise questions about how the anti-fracking movement has fared since 2014.  When we look deeper into the issues, how much do we really know about the environmental problems we face?

The California Methane Leak: An Indicator of a Bigger Problem?

Today, more than one billion kilograms of methane will leak into the air in California. Thousands have been displaced by the natural gas leak 27 miles north of Los Angeles.

This leak has put the U.S.’s natural gas industry in the spotlight. It raises questions as to how clean the low-carbon fuel really is. Here’s what we do know about the methane leak and the gas industry.

The leak is bad for the locals.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency because of the leak. Thousands have evacuated, citing nausea, nosebleeds, and headaches for their leaving.

Recently, the Washington Post reported that the leak might be even more harmful than anticipated. They found high levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, in the air of surrounding areas.

The Southern California Gas Company’s storage facility has been leaking since Oct. 23, 2015. The leak is still far from being contained.  The company has estimated that it won’t be stopped until late February.

It is also bad for the environment.

Natural gas is a cleaner fuel because it emits low levels of carbon dioxide once burned. The methane-rich raw natural gas, however, is very harmful to release into the atmosphere.

Natural gas is 95-98% methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, it has more than 25 times the impact on climate change.

Methane leaks are not rare.

Methane gas leaks like the one in California are not uncommon. The EPA estimates that 30% of methane emissions from natural gas systems come from leaks.

One study found more than 1,000 small methane leaks in New York City alone. This problem isn’t just bad for the environment, its also costly to the gas companies. Their product is being released out into the air instead of being sold to consumers.

Problems like the leaks in New York are relatively easy to fix, however. Durham, North Carolina, replaced all of its gas mains. They now have 90% less leaks per mile than New York.

Methane leaks are not the only problem with the industry.

We are finding more and more problems with natural gas production. Fracking, a common natural gas extraction process, is now a hot topic among environmentalists.  We’re slowly realizing the potential harm of this growing industry, from water contamination to earthquakes.

The industry fights any attempted regulation, saying we don’t know that they’re causing the problems. They have succeeded in classifying many of their processes as trade secrets.  Therefore, we still have a lot to learn about how the industry operates.

Fracking, for example, involves injecting a cocktail of chemicals deep underground at high speeds.  The process is now being blamed for many negative health and environmental impacts.  Who would’ve guessed that slamming chemicals down a hole in the ground could be bad?

 

 

Sources:

Governor declares emergency over Los Angeles gas leak. By Ian Lovett. NY Times. Jan 6, 2016.

No short-term fix for California methane leak. By Henry Fountain. NY Times. Jan 7, 2016.

Experts have just found natural gas leaking out of 1,000 spots in New York City. By Dan Vergano and Peter Aldhous. Buzzfeed News. Sept. 9, 2015

Things to know about the 12-week-old Los Angeles gas leak. By Brian Melley. The Washington Post. Jan. 15, 2016

‘An oversight’: Calif. Utility understated levels of cancer-causing chemical in L.A. gas leak. By Sarah Kaplan. The Washington Post. Jan. 15, 2016

At Paris climate talks, experts cite looming risk from industrial coolants, methane. By Joby Warrick. The Washington Post. Dec. 5, 2015

More quakes rattle Oklahoma but state avoids tough measures. By Seth Borenstein, Kelly P. Kissel and Sean Murphy. Associated Press. Jan. 18, 2016

Methane leaks in natural-gas supply chain far exceed estimates, study says. By John Schwartz. NY Times. Aug. 18, 2015.

Natural gas leak in California raises health, environmental concerns. Merrit Kennedy. NPR. Dec. 15, 2015

Massive methane gas leak displaces thousands in Los Angeles county. By Ingrid Lobet. NPR. Dec. 24, 2015