Energy Dept.: Climate change puts energy sector at risk

Climate change and the extreme weather that’s linked to it could harm energy sector infrastructure, the Energy Department said in a report released Thursday.

The report cited record-high temperatures, widespread drought that has limited water supplies and higher sea levels that feed more intense storms as dangers to the nation’s energy system.

“These trends, which are expected to continue, could restrict the supply of secure, sustainable, and affordable energy critical to the nation’s economic growth,” the department said in the report.

Climate scientists have generally avoided linking individual extreme weather events to climate change. Many say, though, that its effects — such as higher sea levels and warmer waters — exacerbate storms and other weather incidents.

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The report advocated using energy production technology that requires less water, expanding deployment of modern electric grid devices that can more effectively detect system stresses and “hardening” infrastructure to wildfires, storms and floods.

Policy changes at the local, state and federal levels will be necessary to meet those goals, the DOE said — and that better data, tools and models on the impact of climate change could help push policymakers into adopting such changes.

The report also said there’s several recent case studies that make the point that climate change poses risks to the energy sector.

The report noted energy infrastructure located on the coasts are vulnerable to rising sea levels and storms.

That came to fruition last fall when Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast and took a handful of refineries and fuel import terminals offline, causing gasoline shortages in the Northeast. Power plants also were affected, leaving more than 8 million people in the dark across 21 states.

The Energy Department added that drought would impede hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses water, sand and chemicals to blast away tight-rock formations in order to reach oil and gas trapped deep below ground.

Environmental and agriculture groups have warned that proliferation of fracking, which is credited with the recent domestic energy boom, stresses water supplies too much.

That’s playing out in some states, as energy producers paid higher costs for or were denied access to water in 2012 in states such as Kansas, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota, the department said.

The report also listed other climate complications, including increased flooding that disrupts fuel transportation by rail and boat, more sluggish power delivery resulting from higher temperatures and performance of renewable power such as solar and hydroelectric during periods of greater precipitation and drought.

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