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Why megastorms will become more common, according to science

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Tuesday, November 8, 2022

In August of this year, The New York Times ran a feature story titled “The Coming California Megastorm.”

Under future climate change, atmospheric rivers hitting the West Coast are likely to “shift from being ‘mostly or primarily beneficial’ to ‘mostly or primarily hazardous,’” according to a study published in 2020 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Flood damage slide in the Columbia River Gorge

In August of this year, The New York Times ran a feature story titled “The Coming California Megastorm.”

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Texas will have to cut methane emissions from oil fields under new federal climate rule

The Biden Administration announced a crackdown on methane emissions, a major driver of climate change. Major oil and gas companies also signed on to a voluntary net-zero commitment.

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. The Environmental Protection Agency on Saturday finalized a long-anticipated climate regulation that will require oil and gas operators to dramatically reduce how much methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is escaping from equipment in many oil fields across Texas. The rule achieves a major goal of the Biden Administration to crack down on methane, the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. The regulation was announced early Saturday morning in Dubai at the 28th international United Nations climate summit, known as COP 28. Methane can trap much more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but lasts in the atmosphere for a few decades rather than a few centuries— meaning that emission reductions are felt relatively quickly. With nations behind on their commitments in the Paris Climate Accords international treaty to hold the Earth to 1.5 degrees celsius of warming compared to pre-industrial levels, attention has turned to methane for its potential to slow climate change in the short term and buy some time. “This is historic news for our climate, for our future, and for our children,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan during a press conference Saturday in Dubai. “The standards today, while ambitious, are common sense.” Global concentrations of methane in the atmosphere have dramatically increased in recent years: In 2021, methane increased by almost 18 parts per billion in the atmosphere, the biggest increase in a single year since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s records began in 1984. In 2022, atmospheric methane increased by 14 parts per billion, the fourth largest increase on record. Most of the methane emissions in the U.S. come from the energy sector — especially in Texas, the nation’s largest oil and gas producing state which currently lacks a strict rule to capture escaping methane emissions from energy infrastructure. The Permian Basin in particular is a major methane hotspot, and operators there have long been criticized by environmental groups for failing to ensure equipment isn’t venting huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere. The rules, which were first drafted two years ago, were modeled in part after state-level methane regulations in New Mexico and Colorado. At a press conference in Dubai, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham applauded the EPA rule as one that would ensure states that neighbor each other — like Texas and New Mexico — would have “apples to apples” regulations. “Having federal rules means that my border states, and the very same companies who are operating in both states, will adhere to the same standards,” Lujan Grisham said. Oil and gas companies will be required to phase out routine flaring of natural gas, a relatively common practice in which companies burn off excess gas that is unearthed along with oil. If a flare isn’t wholly lit, or the flame goes out and is not re-ignited, then the raw methane vents into the atmosphere. Companies also burn off gas when drilling wells or when shutting down a facility on short notice, such as during a weather emergency. Routine flaring without permission from regulators is barred by state law, but companies frequently request exceptions from the rules; the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, authorized about 3,600 venting and flaring exceptions in 2022, according to agency data. Yet some independent analyses have found that oil and gas companies are likely flaring gas in the field more frequently than approved by state regulators. The oil and gas industry has in recent years touted its own efforts to cut methane emissions in the oil field. Early on Saturday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that 50 oil and gas companies — including Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum, Shell, and several national oil companies — had agreed to meet net-zero emissions in their operations by 2050, end routine flaring by 2030, and reach significantly curtail methane emissions in the oil field. Darren Woods, the CEO of ExxonMobil, headquartered in Spring, a suburb of Houston, also made an appearance at COP 28 this week. Woods is reportedly the first Exxon chief executive to attend one of the climate summits. Some industry groups on Saturday did not immediately oppose the EPA’s new regulation. For example, the American Petroleum Institute, a major trade group for U.S. oil and gas companies, said it was still reviewing the rule on Saturday, and said that it shares the administration’s goal to reduce methane emissions. “This rule must balance emissions reductions with the need to continue meeting rising energy demand,” said Dustin Meyer, API’s senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, in a statement. However, in comments submitted to the EPA earlier this year, the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers wrote that the regulations would be costly and lauded industry-led efforts. “Burdensome federal requirements on producers are unnecessary,” wrote Jason Modglin, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, which represents independent oil companies. A major tenant of the regulation is that it will require companies to monitor their equipment for methane leaks — another big source of emissions from the oilfield — and allows companies to choose from many different types of technology to do so. That was a sticking point that many industry groups asked regulators to include. The rule also creates a new “super emitter” program in which large methane releases are identified and targeted. Last year, the federal agency did some limited helicopter flyovers of the Permian Basin in an attempt to identify some of those methane pollution hot spots. States will be tasked with enforcing the regulations, and will have two years to create a plan for how they’ll implement them, an extension of an earlier proposal. Texas’ environmental and energy agencies had both requested the EPA extend the deadline. The Administration has estimated that the regulation will cut 58 million tons of methane emissions between 2024 and 2038, which is nearly as much carbon dioxide emitted by the power sector in 2021. However, in comments submitted earlier this year, Texas environmental and energy agencies characterized those estimates as inflated and “unrealistic.” But Texas regulators have already suggested that they believe the federal regulation could be vulnerable to legal challenges: In comments submitted to the EPA in February, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Railroad Commission warned of “overreach” by EPA in light of a Supreme Court decision last year that significantly curtailed the federal agency’s power to regulate emissions. The Texas regulatory agencies argued in their comments that responding to climate change could be considered a “major policy question,” which the Supreme Court has found should be decided by Congress rather than federal bureaucrats, and that “agencies have only the authority granted to them by Congress and no such grant to address global climate change.” Texas’ state regulatory agencies also complained in the comments that there are too many requirements before the state can approve requests by facilities, including old facilities nearing the end of their life, to waive some of the stricter emissions requirements. Texas argues that the red tape will effectively “force” states with large oil industries to apply the rule as written and “eliminate discretion.” The state, under Attorney General Ken Paxton, frequently and enthusiastically sues the Biden Administration over regulations it views as onerous or an economic threat to the energy sector. An EPA official told The Texas Tribune that the agency doesn’t intend for those requirements to be onerous for state agencies. Texas environment groups on Saturday praised the new regulation given Texas’ lax attitude toward greenhouse gas emissions. Elizabeth Lieberknecht, a regulatory and legislative manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, called the regulation “game changing in Texas.” Luke Metzger, the executive director of Environment Texas, said the federal regulations are necessary since state regulators appear unwilling to take serious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Texas’ massive oil sector. Texas, Metzger said, “needs strong federal regulations to reduce methane emissions— maybe more than any other state.” Disclosure: Environmental Defense Fund, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Texas Alliance of Energy Producers have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Biden Administration Announces Dramatic Plan to Cut Methane Pollution

The Biden administration announced an ambitious new plan on Saturday to dramatically curb methane emissions, the second biggest cause of global warming after carbon dioxide. It would require oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks of methane for the first time. The announcement came as the United Nations hosted the Cop28 climate summit […]

The Biden administration announced an ambitious new plan on Saturday to dramatically curb methane emissions, the second biggest cause of global warming after carbon dioxide. It would require oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks of methane for the first time. The announcement came as the United Nations hosted the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai, where Vice President Kamala Harris delivered brief remarks. “We must have the ambition to meet this moment, to accelerate our investments and to lead with courage and conviction,” she said. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the new rule would prevent 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038—roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted annually by coal-fired power plants in the United States. The administrative rule doesn’t need congressional approval and will take effect next year, although conservative groups are likely to challenge it in court. (The US Supreme Court has already placed limits on the administration’s efforts to fight climate change.) Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the policy “the most impactful climate rule that the United States has ever adopted in terms of addressing temperatures we would otherwise see.” In a separate announcement at the UN summit, the world’s 50 largest oil producers reached a new pact to reduce methane emissions by 80 to 90 percent by the end of the decade. Still, environmental groups have criticized Biden for not doing more to fight climate change by targeting fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas. The administration has approved new drilling leases this year and domestic oil production has surged. The United States is poised to extract record amounts of oil and gas in 2023, which is on track to be the hottest year on record. Biden skipped the UN summit to focus on other issues, including Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. Environmentalists have also faulted the UN for holding the summit in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil producers. The president of the summit is the head of the state-owned oil company.

After thousands of heat deaths, states move to protect young residents

States are responding to the surge in heat-related deaths with strategies that include public warnings, ice baths and cooling centers for those without air conditioning.

After two years of record-breaking heat that brought a surge of deaths and health emergencies, several states have enacted or are considering measures designed to protect residents — with a new focus on younger people whose vulnerability is rising with the temperatures.Nationally, heat-related deaths rose from about 1,000 in 2018 to 1,722 in 2022 and 1,784 so far in 2023, according to a Stateline analysis of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Those totals are likely an underestimate because heat waves make death more likely from other causes as well.The Stateline analysis considered heat-related deaths in CDC epidemiological research, known as Wonder data, where heat is listed as a direct or contributing cause. But deaths caused by heat more indirectly are much higher. A New York City analysis last year, for example, found an average 360 heat-exacerbated deaths in the city annually compared with 10 caused directly by heat.Oregon’s deadly 2021 heat domeClimate change is making the problem more urgent: Heat waves have been steadily rising in number and duration since the 1960s. States are responding with strategies that include public warnings, ice baths and cooling centers for those without air conditioning.As climate change increases the number of extremely hot days, minority groups and people with low incomes will suffer disproportionately, said Samantha Artiga, director of racial equity and health policy at KFF, a national health policy think tank. A recent KFF report on heat-related deaths found the highest death rates were for Native American, Black and Hispanic people.“We know that while climate change and extreme heat pose risks for everyone, those risks are not felt equally,” said Artiga, who co-wrote the report.The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record globally, as was the 12-month period ending Oct. 31. A November report published in the medical journal The Lancet said worldwide heat-related deaths could nearly quintuple by 2050.People 65 or older represent the bulk of deaths — 44% this year — but the youngest also are falling prey to heat. One in 10 heat-related deaths this year were people younger than 35. Among them: a 12-year-old California boy who died after running laps at school in August, a 19-year-old Kansas college football player and a 25-year-old Arizona farmworker who succumbed to the heat in July.“Addressing increasing numbers of heat-related deaths is a likely reality that will require both new policy and awareness,” said Jesse Berman, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota who studies health effects of climate change.Twelve-year-old Yahushua Robinson died on Aug. 29 while running laps during a gym class at his middle school in Lake Elsinore, California. At the time of his death, state legislators were already considering a bill to give school athletic programs more resources to address heat-related injuries.Assemblymember Kate Sanchez, a Republican representing part of Orange County, said she sponsored the bill to ensure that all schools, not just wealthy ones, have tools to prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths, such as ice baths and wet-bulb thermometers that measure temperature and humidity. It was signed into law last month.“This law will help schools, especially in underserved areas, keep our students safe while they’re being healthy and active,” Sanchez said.The 2016 death of Johnny Tolbert, a 12-year-old Georgia football player who collapsed during football practice, inspired the adoption of a South Fulton city ordinance that requires heat-related training for coaches and the placement of 150-gallon containers at parks that host athletic events. The containers must be filled with ice and water between April and September so that heat-stricken athletes can be immersed in them.Georgia state legislators are considering a bill, based on the South Fulton ordinance, that would require every city and county park and recreational facility to have at least one container with a capacity of 150 gallons or more and to keep ice on hand between April and September — or whenever the temperature reaches 93 degrees or higher.“Hopefully we can save the next child’s life and get them to a hospital,” said sponsor state Rep. Lydia Glaize, a Democrat who represents a suburban Atlanta district.Cold-water immersion tubs also are required in Florida under a 2020 state law.In the nation’s hottest and most arid states, heat-related deaths have soared.Arizona had 529 heat-related deaths in 2022 and 710 so far this year — up from about 200 a year in 2018 and 2019. Texas also saw a large increase from about 100 a year in 2018 and 2019, doubling to 203 in 2022 and jumping again to 323 in 2023.States in the Midwest, including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, had the highest rate of heat-related emergency room visits this past summer, topping out in late August at a rate of 1,516 heat-related visits per 100,000 total emergency-room visits.A historic heat wave in the desert West this year, including a record-shattering 54 days of temperatures of 110 degrees or more in Phoenix, has tested decades of experimentation with cooling centers and other public responses to curb heat deaths.Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, ordered new cooling centers on the Capitol Mall and called for more action to combat heat-related deaths in an August executive order. The state health department is due to present an action plan in December.As a fast-growing state, Arizona has many newcomers and retirees who may not be aware of how debilitating the heat can be, according to Hsin-I Lin Cox, a state epidemiologist. Cities also have large homeless populations that need bus transportation to reach cooling centers.New York also is taking steps to curb heat-related health problems, especially for workers and athletes.Legislation introduced this year would create heat thresholds that would trigger protections for delivery workers. It’s still in committee.Many delivery trucks do not have air-conditioned cabs. Paramedics had to cover a New York UPS driver in ice packs and take him to the hospital in July 2022 after he nearly collapsed at the end of his Long Island route. A UPS driver died in Texas this summer after collapsing in the heat.“It seems like it’s getting hotter here every year and we don’t want to wait until there’s a tragedy,” said New York Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, a Democrat representing Queens who sponsored the legislation.Stateline is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization focused on state policy.©2023 States Newsroom. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Oil and gas producers pledge to cut methane emissions at UN climate talks

A group of 50 major oil and gas companies signed a pledge to cut methane emissions during the Dubai COP28 climate summit on Saturday, in a move that some climate activists are downplaying as a “smokescreen.” The coalition of oil producers includes the largest state-owned operations, including Saudi Aramco, alongside major American companies like ExxonMobil....

A group of 50 major oil and gas companies signed a pledge to cut methane emissions during the Dubai COP28 climate summit on Saturday, in a move that some climate activists are downplaying as a “smokescreen.” The coalition of oil producers includes the largest state-owned operations, including Saudi Aramco, alongside major American companies like ExxonMobil. The agreement pledges that the companies will cut their greenhouse gas emission to net-zero by 2050, and cut methane emissions to near-zero level by 2030. Climate scientists have cited methane as one of the most immediate climate dangers. "If we want to accelerate progress across the climate agenda, we must bring everyone in to be accountable and responsible for climate action," COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber said. "We must all focus on reducing emissions and apply a positive can-do vision to drive climate action and get everyone to take action. We need a clear action plan, and I am determined to deliver one." Jaber is also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, bringing the event scrutiny. Reports before the summit began alleged that Jaber and UAE interests sought to use the venue to strike backroom oil production deals, which he denied. The 50 oil and gas giants account for about 40 percent of global oil production, the UAE said. Major oil interests in Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Qatar and China did not sign on to the agreement. Specifically, the deal agrees to reduce methane emissions to 0.2 percent of oil and natural gas production by 2030, and to end routine emissions flaring.The United Nations, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and International Energy Agency, will be tracking the progress, a first for any similar agreement. EDF President Fred Krupp called the 0.2 percent target “ambitious but absolutely achievable,” adding that the deal “could reduce methane emissions by each company signing by as much as 80 to 90 percent.” “This will be the single most impactful day I’ve seen at any COP in 30 years in terms of slowing the rate of warming,” he said in a statement. “The industry must do more than methane reductions; business as usual will not meet this moment.” Methane has been a frequent target of climate activists in recent years, as it is one of the most potent greenhouses gases for climate change. The gas is about 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is responsible for about 25 percent of global warming. The Biden administration announced new Environmental Protection Agency rules to limit methane emissions earlier Saturday, alongside the COP28 deal.

At UN Climate Talks, Oil Companies Pledge to Combat Methane; Environmentalists Call It 'Smokescreen'

Fifty oil companies representing nearly half of global production have pledged to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030, the president of this year’s U_N_ climate talks said Saturday, a move that environmental groups called a “smokescreen.”

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Fifty oil companies representing nearly half of global production have pledged to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030, the president of this year's United Nations climate talks said Saturday, a move that environmental groups called a “smokescreen."The announcement by Sultan al-Jaber, president of the climate summit known as COP28 and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., comes as he and others have insisted his background would allow him to bring oil companies to the negotiating table. Al-Jaber has maintained that having the industry's buy-in is crucial to drastically slashing the world’s greenhouse emissions by nearly half in seven years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times.The pledge included major national oil companies such as Saudi Aramco, Brazil's Petrobras and Sonangol, from Angola, and multi-nationals like Shell, TotalEnergies and BP.“The world does not work without energy,” said al-Jaber. “Yet the world will break down if we do not fix energies we use today, mitigate their emissions at a gigaton scale, and rapidly transition to zero carbon alternatives.”Methane can be released at several points along the operation of an oil and gas company, from fracking to when natural gas is produced, transported or stored. Over a shorter period, it’s more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for climate change.For months leading up to COP28, there has been talk that one of the biggest outcomes could be on methane. Not only do methane leaks, along with flaring, which is burning of excess methane, and venting of the gas all contribute to climate change, but these problems can largely solved with current technologies and changes to operations. Indeed, oil and gas companies could have taken such measures years ago but largely have not, instead focusing more on expanding production than focusing on the byproduct of it. In that way, the methane deal represented a potentially significant contribution to combatting climate change that largely maintained the status quo for the oil and gas industry. Environmental groups were quick to criticize it. The pledge is a “smokescreen to hide the reality that we need to phase out oil, gas and coal,” said a letter signed by more than 300 civil society groups. Marcelo Mena, CEO of Global Methane Hub, rejected that the notion that having near-zero methane emission commitments was a way to delay a phase out of fossil fuels.“We wouldn’t let oil companies leak into the ocean until phase out, so why would we let them leak out methane to super charge climate change?” said Mena, a former environment minister in Chile. Still, Mena said that self-reporting didn't go far enough to push oil and gas companies to make changes. Instead, he said putting a price on pollution, or companies finding themselves shut out of markets that require high standards with leaks, would force change. High regulations are beginning to happen. Earlier this year, European Union negotiators reached a deal to reduce methane emissions from the energy industry across the 27-member bloc. The agreement bans routine venting and flaring, and mandates strict reporting. By 2027, it will expand those norms to oil and gas exporters outside the bloc. Saturday's announcement did not address the oil and natural gas being burned off by the end users, whether motorists in their cars or by plants powering cities. That burning off creates the greenhouse gases fueling climate change.The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter is backed by both the United Arab Emirates and neighboring Saudi Arabia, two OPEC heavyweights. Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources, located close to the surface of its desert expanse, makes it one of the world’s least expensive places to produce crude. Both Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC and Saudi Aramco, the world’s third-most-valuable company, have signed onto the pledge.Separately, organizers said 110 countries have signed onto a pledge to triple the world’s installed renewable energy capacity by 2030, something pledged in September by leaders of the so-called Group of 20. Their countries emit 80% of all planet-warming gases.Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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