Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Los Angeles weighs ban on new gas stations

Los Angeles officials are considering a ban on the construction of new gas stations as part of a push to curb the development of fossil fuel infrastructure.

“We are ending oil drilling in Los Angeles. We are moving to all-electric new construction. And we are building toward fossil fuel-free transportation,” LA council member Paul Koretz (D) told The Guardian, referring to other recent policy decisions.

“Our great and influential city, which grew up around the automobile, is the perfect place to figure out how to move off the gas-powered car,” Koretz said.

If LA does move forward with these plans, it would become the biggest city to ban new gas stations, The Guardian noted.

Los Angeles would be following in the footsteps of Bay-area city Petaluma, Calif., which became the first U.S. city last year to do so, as The Hill reported. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedbackSubscribe here.

Today we’ll examine the leaks rattling U.S. natural gas and carbon dioxide pipelines, followed by a look at the dangerous heat plaguing much of the country. Then we’ll explore whether hosting virtual conferences could help curb global emissions.

US gas pipeline leaks occur every 40 hours: report

America’s natural gas pipelines incur the equivalent of one leak every 40 hours, a new report has found. 

From 2010 to 2021, almost 2,600 such leaks occurred that were serious enough to require federal reporting — with 850 resulting in fires and 328 in explosions, according to the study, released by U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund. 

  • These incidents killed 122 people and injured 603, the authors observed.  
  • Total costs in property damage, emergency services and the value of unintentionally released gas totaled nearly $4 billion.   

On par with cars: Such events also led to the leakage of 26.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas — equal to the annual emissions generated by 2.4 million passenger vehicles, according to the report. 

A nationwide issue: “House explosions and leaking pipelines aren’t isolated incidents — they’re the result of an energy system that pipes dangerous, explosive gas across the country and through our neighborhoods,” co-author Matt Casale, of U.S. PIRG Education Fund, said in a statement. 

To draw their conclusions, Casale and his colleagues sifted through federal leak reporting data available through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Impact: The authors, who referred to natural gas by its primary component of methane, stressed that the amount of gas leaking into the environment is likely far greater than the quantity captured in federal leak reporting. 

  • That’s because the database pertains only to the pipeline system, which doesn’t include non-pipeline sources such as those coming in and out of homes, according to the study. 
  • Moving forward, the authors recommended that the U.S. curb its reliance on natural gas for home heating and cooking, as well as incentivize a transition to all-electric buildings and renewable energy.
  • In the interim, they suggested focusing gas infrastructure investments on fixing leaks.   

Industry’s response? The American Gas Association said that gas utilities invest $91 million daily to enhance the safety of distribution and transmission systems — a move they say has resulted in a 69 percent decline in related emissions since 1990. 

Since the same year, the miles of gas mains made of modern, leak-resistant sources “have more than tripled,” according to the association.  

“Natural gas utilities remain committed to upgrading our nation’s pipeline network to enhance safety while contributing to a declining trend in emissions,” the statement added. 

To read the full story, please click here.

Carbon dioxide pipelines face farmer opposition

A key piece of the Biden climate agenda — plans to build a massive network of pipelines that would reroute industrial carbon emissions underground — is getting pushback from those whose lands the pipelines would cross.

Farmers, Native nations and other landowners are organizing against a pair of carbon dioxide pipelines slated to cross the Midwest — suggesting the Department of Energy’s ambitious goals may be challenging to reach. 

  • Such carbon capture, transport and storage systems are a large component of U.S. climate goals, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said. 
  • Pipeline companies Navigator and Summit Carbon Solutions claim they are making ethanol — and therefore gasoline — more sustainable by capturing some of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas released in the process to be stored underground.  

Brewing discontent: Hundreds of landowners in multiple states have filed positions opposing the pipelines, for reasons ranging from concerns about safety, to skepticism over environmental benefits to worries about losing the use of their land. 

  • “They’re telling us it will be perfectly safe — just like the fracking injection people did,” Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party and founder of Bold Nebraska, a landowner activist group, told Equilibrium. 
  • The group also opposes the potential seizure of land by the pipeline companies, describing the practice as “eminent domain for private gain,” according to Kleeb. 

Pushback from tribal nations: The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has asked for an environmental impact statement.

Carbon removal: The pipelines from Navigator and Summit Carbon Solutions would transport carbon dioxide emitted from ethanol plants in states like Iowa and Nebraska to be stored underground in deep caverns

Once there, it would use a similar storage mechanism that we covered at a carbon removal facility in Iceland last week. That process, called carbon removal, involves binding carbon dioxide into subterranean rock formations where it turns to stone. But getting it there remains a problem. 

In their press statements, both firms have laid out sweeping plans for an expanded network of carbon capture pipelines. 

Big plans: The companies market the plan as a means of making Midwestern ethanol more attractive to states like California and Oregon, the Nebraska Examiner reported. 

  • The fuel itself still releases carbon dioxide when burned. 
  •  “We don’t think this is a climate solution. It just lets oil and gas companies pretend they’re making progress toward net zero,” Kleen said. 

Real risk: Even carbon dioxide alone — an odorless, colorless gas — can be dangerous. 

Much of US facing dangerous heat this weekend

The high-pressure atmospheric dome hovering over much of the U.S. like the lid to a pressure cooker will stay in place throughout the weekend. 

That means persistent and even dangerous daytime temperatures for most of the South and West, Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, told Equilibrium. 

Like a nozzle: A ridge of dense air — an area featuring high pressure that tends to generate fair weather — has become trapped over the Ohio Valley and is generating additional heat as it sinks toward the surface, Carbin said.  

  • “It’s like when you fill a tire with air, and the nozzle gets hot, because it’s compressing air around a smaller domain,” he said. 
  • The clear skies beneath the ridge also allows in additional solar heat, he added. 

Mild relief is coming: The ridge should “erode from the sides over the next few days, so next week should bring a bit of relief,” which means temperatures in the 90s rather than the 100s, Carbin said. 

Don’t get too comfortable: “But as we go through the summer, the probability is high that we’ll see another ridge build across the middle of the country,” he added. 

ICYMI: Check out our guide on staying cool if your power goes out in a heatwave.

The virtue of going virtual 

Maintaining the option of virtual attendance at professional conferences could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study. 

Comparing data from an annual conference that occurred both before and during the pandemic, researchers found that considerable emissions were spared during the virtual version. They published the results of their analysis on Thursday in JAMA Oncology.

Big differences: The authors looked specifically at attendance records for the American Radium Society Annual meeting, which occurred as an in-person summit in 2019 and as a virtual online conference in 2021. 

Their findings? The total emissions that would have been incurred but ended up spared during the 2021 meeting would have been about 469.4 metric tons, according to the study. 

That’s the equivalent of the annual emissions of 102.4 passenger vehicles, the authors noted. 

How did they get there? They sorted through attendance numbers and associated travel for the 2019 in-person meeting as well as the 2021 virtual session. 

  • They found that 252 people attended in person in 2019, while 338 attended in 2021 — a 34 percent increase in attendance.  
  • For the 2019 conference, they estimated that the total carbon dioxide emissions generated was about 170.5 metric tons, or 0.68 metric tons per attendee.   

Do virtual conferences generate any emissions? Yes, but comparatively little. The authors calculated that the total emissions associated with online streaming at the 2021 conference was about 0.91 metric tons, while food delivery amounted to about 0.70 metric tons.  

This is just one conference. Why is it so important? Researchers estimate that conference attendance makes up 35 percent of a scientist’s total carbon emissions, the authors stressed, citing a 2013 article in the journal Ecological Indicators.  

With in-person meetings resuming during the post-pandemic era, the authors suggested that professional societies consider prioritizing sustainability when planning their meetings. 

Other options? The researchers identified several solutions:

  • Hybrid conferences with in-person and virtual options 
  • Alternating annual meetings between in-person and online events 
  • Making meetings biannual 
  • Decentralizing meetups with multiple regional conference venues 

Thursday Threats 

Water edition: Heat waves worsen hurricanes, La Niña celebrates her third birthday and the portent of power loss in Lake Mead. 

Heat waves could incubate hurricanes 

  • This week’s hot weather is spiking temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, which is increasing the risk of hurricanes, according to NBC News. Temperatures are “well above what a hurricane needs to survive,” Nan Walker of Louisiana State University told NBC. 

‘Triple’ La Niña likely to roll into 2023: researchers 

  • A La Niña event that has caused flooding in eastern Australia and exacerbated U.S. and East African drought could continue into 2023 — rolling into a third consecutive year, according to Nature. While such a “triple dip” La Niña has happened only twice since 1950, climate change could make future such conditions worse, researchers warned. 

Dead pool looms for Nevada’s Lake Mead 

  • Drought has brought Nevada’s crucial hydropower reservoir of Lake Mead to just 150 feet above “dead pool,” when water is too low to flow downstream, NBC News reported. “This is deadly serious stuff,” Robert Glennon of University of Arizona said to NBC.


A floating city is taking shape in a turquoise lagoon in the Indian Ocean, just
10 minutes by boat from Male, the capital of the Maldives, CNN reported.

The project, a joint venture between developer Dutch Docklands and the government of the Maldives, is “being built as a practical solution to the harsh reality of sea-level rise,” according to CNN. 

The Maldives could disappear by century’s end if warming isn’t slowed, the country’s environment minister told the World Economic Forum last year, CNBC reported. 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.


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