Topic: Energy and Environment

The Environmental Lightning Rod Known as Fracking

Of all issues energizing environmentalists, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of the subsurface rocks during the production of oil and gas is near the very top of the list.

In spite of this, several recent government decisions and court rulings have come down on the side of fracking. For example, overshadowed in May by Brexit coverage, elected officials in Yorkshire, England gave the thumbs up to fracking operations there in an effort to boost natural gas production. Also in May, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down fracking bans passed by the city governments of Fort Collins and Longmont, in a ruling that upheld the legality of the state to regulate fracking, versus the municipalities’ lack of standing to ban use of the technology.

Six Decades of Temperature and Precipitation in Kentucky

Air temperature and precipitation, in the words of Chattopadhyay and Edwards (2016), are “two of the most important variables in the fields of climate sciences and hydrology.” Understanding how and why they change has long been the subject of research, and reliable detection and characterization of trends in these variables is necessary, especially at the scale of a political decision-making entity such as a state. Chattopadhyay and Edwards evaluated trends in precipitation and air temperature for the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the hopes that their analysis would “serve as a necessary input to forecasting, decision-making and planning processes to mitigate any adverse consequences of changing climate.”

Data used in their study originated from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and consisted of time series of daily precipitation and maximum and minimum air temperatures for each Kentucky county. The two researchers focused on the 61-year period from 1950-2010 to maximize standardization among stations and to ensure acceptable record length. In all, a total of 84 stations met their initial criteria. Next, Chattopadhyay and Edwards subjected the individual station records to a series of statistical analyses to test for homogeneity, which reduced the number of stations analyzed for precipitation and temperature trends to 60 and 42, respectively. Thereafter, these remaining station records were subjected to non-parametric Mann-Kendall testing to assess the presence of significant trends and the Theil-Sen approach to quantify the significance of any linear trends in the time series. What did these procedures reveal?

For precipitation, Chattopadhyay and Edwards report only two of the 60 stations exhibited a significant trend in precipitation, leading the two University of Kentucky researchers to state “the findings clearly indicate that, according to the dataset and methods used in this study, annual rainfall depths in Kentucky generally exhibit no statistically significant trends with respect to time.” With respect to temperature, a similar result was found. Only three of the 42 stations examined had a significant trend. Once again, Chattopadhyay and Edwards conclude the data analyzed in their study “indicate that, broadly speaking, mean annual temperatures in Kentucky have not demonstrated a statistically significant trend with regard to time.”

Given such findings, it would seem that the vast bulk of anthropogenic CO2 emissions that have been emitted into the atmosphere since 1950 have had little impact on Kentucky temperature and precipitation, because there have been no systematic trends in either variable.

 

Reference

Chattopadhyay, S. and Edwards, D.R. 2016. Long-term trend analysis of precipitation and air temperature for Kentucky, United States. Climate 4: 10; doi:10.3390/cli4010010.

You Ought to Have a Look: Platform Planks on Energy and the Environment

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

With the end of Convention season mercifully upon us, we thought we ought to have a look at what the party platforms have to say about energy and the environment, with an eye on climate change policies in particular.

We’ll start out with the Democratic Party Platform.

The Democrats are of the mind that human-caused climate change is one of the major problems facing the country/world today, describing it as “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

It’s unclear that the voters feel that way… although part of the Democrats strategy for this election seems to be to try to persuade them otherwise.

The Democratic platform is chock full of government actions that promise to initiate, broaden and extend the current set of rules, regulation, and orders seeking to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases), largely by way of lessening (on the way to eliminating) our reliance on fossil fuels as our primary source of energy production. This collection of promised federal actions is large both in scope and number and includes everything from pursuing a carbon tax

Human Mortality Due to Heat Is NOT Rising!

In previous postings, we investigated the likelihood of a serious climate-related concern expressed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that CO2-induced global warming will lead to a future increase in the number of heat related deaths worldwide (see, for example, On The Bright Side: Declining Deaths Due to Hot and Cold Temperatures in Hong Kong and Response to Heat Stress in the United States: Are More Dying or Are More Adapting?). In short, we found there is an absence of empirical data to support the IPCC’s claim.

The latest study to investigate this topic comes from Arbuthnott et al. (2016), who introduce their work by noting that “interest in understanding temperature related health effects is growing.” And as their contribution to the subject, they set out to examine “variations in temperature related mortality risks over the 20th and 21st centuries [in order to] determine whether population adaptation to heat and/or cold has occurred.”

A search of 9183 titles and abstracts dealing with the subject returned eleven studies examining the effects of ambient temperature over time (i.e., relative risk or RR) and six studies comparing the effect of different heatwaves at specific points in time. Out of the eleven RR studies, with respect to the hot end of the temperature spectrum, Arbuthnott et al. report “all except one found some evidence of decreasing susceptibility,” leading the team of four UK researchers to conclude that “susceptibility to heat [has] appeared to stabilize over the last part of the century.” Interestingly, however, at the cold end of the temperature spectrum, they say “there is little consistent evidence for decreasing cold related mortality, especially over the latter part of the last century.”

With respect to the impacts of specific heatwave events on human health, Arbuthnott et al. state that four of the six papers included in this portion of their analysis revealed “a decrease in expected mortality,” again signaling there has been a decrease in the vulnerability of the human populations studied over time. As for the cause(s) of the observed temperature-induced mortality declines, the authors acknowledge their methods are incapable of making that determination.  However, they opine that it may, in part, be related to physiological acclimatization (human adaptation) to temperature.

Whatever the cause, one thing is certain: despite current temperatures rising to levels characterized by the IPCC and others as unprecedented over the past two millennia or more, the relative risk of temperature-related human mortality events has not increased, which observation is just the opposite of climate alarmist projections.

 

Reference

Arbuthnott, K., Hajat, S., Heaviside, C. and Vardoulakis, S. 2016. Changes in population susceptibility to heat and cold over time: assessing adaptation to climate change. Environmental Health 15: 33, DOI 10.1186/s12940-016-0102-7.

The Economics of the Saudis’ “Take-the-Money-and-Run” Strategy

As the Financial Times reported on 12 July, Saudi Arabia’s oil-output reached record highs in June 2016. Increasing production 280,000 barrels/day to 10.6m b/d, Saudi Arabia has once again waved off OPEC’s request not to glut the market with oil. 

As it turns out, economic principles explain why the Saudis began, in late 2014, to pump crude as fast as they could – or close to as fast as possible. In fact, there is a good reason why the Saudi princes are panicked and pumping. 

Let’s take a look at the simple analytics of production. The economic production rate for oil is determined by the following equation: P – V = MC, where P is the current market price of a barrel of oil, V is the present value of a barrel of reserves, and MC is the marginal recovery cost of a barrel of oil.

To understand the economics that drive the Saudis to increase their production, we must understand the forces that tend to raise the Saudis’ discount rates. To determine the present value of a barrel of reserves (V in our production equation), we must forecast the price that would be received from liquidating a barrel of reserves at some future date and then discount this price to present value. In consequence, when the discount rate is raised, the value of reserves (V) falls, the gross value of current production (P – V) rises, and increased rates of current production are justified.

When it comes to the political instability in the Middle East, the popular view is that increased tensions in the region will reduce oil production. However, economic analysis suggests that political instability and tensions (read: less certain property rights) will work to increase oil production.

Let’s suppose that the real risk-adjusted rate of discount, without any prospect of property expropriation, is 20% for the Saudis. Now, consider what happens to the discount rate if there is a 50-50 chance that a belligerent will overthrow the House of Saud within the next 10 years. In this case, in any given year, there would be a 6.7% chance of an overthrow. This risk to the Saudis would cause them to compute a new real risk-adjusted rate of discount, with the prospect of having their oil reserves expropriated. In this example, the relevant discount rate would increase to 28.6% from 20% (see the accompanying table for alternative scenarios). This increase in the discount rate will cause the present value of reserves to decrease dramatically. For example, the present value of $1 in 10 years at 20% is $0.16, while it is worth only $0.08 at 28.6%. The reduction in the present value of reserves will make increased current production more attractive because the gross value of current production (P – V) will be higher.

 

So, the Saudi princes are panicked and pumping oil today – a take the money and run strategy – because they know the oil reserves might not be theirs tomorrow. As they say, the neighborhood is unstable. In consequence, property rights are problematic. This state of affairs results in the rapid exploitation of oil reserves.

Three-and-a-Half Centuries of Drought in Southwest China

Drought is a natural hazard that climate models have predicted will increase in the future in consequence of CO2-induced global warming. One way to gauge the validity of such predictions is by examining long-term historic trends in drought to see if there is anything unusual about their occurrence over the past few decades, during which time climate alarmists claim the Earth has experienced unprecedented global warming due to rising atmospheric CO2 emissions. And that is exactly what the seven member research team of Bi et al. (2015) did in assessing drought variability for southwest China over the past three-and-a-half centuries. 

To accomplish their objective, Bi et al. analyzed 39 tree ring cores obtained from 23 Picea likiangensis trees growing on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (27.14°N, 100.23°E), located at the southern part of the Hengduan Mountains, southwest China, to reconstruct a historical spring season Palmer Drought Severity Index (PSDI) for this region. The resulting series is presented in the figure below.

Figure 1. Reconstructed spring PDSI (from March to May) for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, southwest China. The thin line represents the annual value, while the thick line is an 11-year smoothing average. Adapted from Bi et al. (2015).

Figure 1. Reconstructed spring PDSI (from March to May) for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, southwest China. The thin line represents the annual value, while the thick line is an 11-year smoothing average. Adapted from Bi et al. (2015).

As shown above, there have been multiple wet (positive PSDI values) and dry (negative PSDI values) periods over the 361-year record. And with respect to extremely wet or dry years (more than 2 standard deviations above or below the mean), Bi et al. note such events occurred in 1674, 1712-1714, 1728, 1824-1827, and 1941-1942 for extremely wet years and in 1736-1737, 1758, 1762, 1766, 1768-1769, 1819, 1969 and 2008 for extremely dry years. They also report that although the 2000s was a relatively dry decade, “our study reveals that spring drought events during this period were not as extreme as in some other periods within the time scope of our study.”

Consequently, given the findings presented above, there appears to be nothing unusual, unnatural or unprecedented about the recent drought history of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain region, suggesting rising atmospheric CO2 has had little, if any, measurable impact on this hazard phenomenon. And since it has had no remarkable impact on the past, there is no compelling reason to conclude that it will have any measurable impact in the future.

 

Reference

Bi, Y., Xu, J., Gebrekirstos, A., Guo, L., Zhao, M., Liang, E. and Yang, X. 2015. Assessing drought variability since 1650 AD from tree-rings on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, southwest China. International Journal of Climatology 35: 4057-4065.

A CO2-Induced Increase in Subtropical North Atlantic Coccolithophore Abundance

Coccolithophores are calcifying phytoplankton that comprise the base of marine food webs all across the world ocean. They play an important role in the cycling of carbon into the deep ocean and act as a feedback to climate change. Anything that alters their function or abundance, therefore, could have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and global climate. Thus, it is no surprise that scientists are interested in how coccolithophores will respond to future changes in atmospheric CO2 and climate. And in this regard, Krumhardt et al. (2016) say there has been “much speculation [that has] inspired numerous laboratory and mesocosm experiments, but how they are currently responding in situ is less well documented.” Working to provide just such an in situ analysis, the team of four researchers thus set out to analyze coccolithophore abundance in the subtropical North Atlantic over the period 1990 to 2014.

To accomplish their objective, Krumhardt et al. used coccolithophore pigment data collected at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site (located at 31.7°N, 64.2°W in the Sargasso Sea) in conjunction with satellite estimates of surface chlorophyll and particulate inorganic carbon as a proxy measure of coccolithophore abundance. Results of their analysis revealed that “coccolithophore populations in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre have been increasing significantly over the past two decades. More specifically, they note there was a 37 percent increase in euphotic zone-integrated (integrated from 140 m depth) in coccolithophore pigment abundance at BATS and a larger 68 percent increase in the upper 30 m of the water column (see figure below). Such findings, in the words of the authors, add to those of a growing number of studies showing that coccolithophores in the North Atlantic “are increasing in abundance and are likely stimulated by additional carbon from anthropogenic sources.”