OSU is ignoring climate-change science

August 14, 2020 The BargainHunter.com Randi Pokladnik                 

Last week I took part in a virtual meeting to gather testimony concerning the construction of a new gas-powered plant in Columbus. The $290 million project would be placed on the western side of the campus.

The Ohio Power Siting Board needs to approve the 105.5 megawatt CHP, combined heat and power (two gas turbines) plant. It will be developed by a private group of companies that will manage and profit from this plant. It will only provide energy to the Ohio State University.

The plant will be a major emitter of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. It will contribute to the air pollution in Franklin County.

A recent Columbus Dispatch article reported, “Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced in mid-February that he would pursue a community-choice energy-aggregation program to reach 100% green power by 2022.”

This fracked gas-powered plant will not move Columbus toward that goal. Why didn’t OSU consider a renewable-energy project?

This question and several others were asked when over 50 people including OSU alumni, students, faculty, and some local people from Harrison and Belmont counties provided testimony last week. Those supporting the plant were mainly using economic reasons to justify support while those against the plant were concerned as to the impact of the emissions on local residents and the failure of the campus to keep its pledge of a sustainable campus.

The proposed plant has been exempted from analysis of emissions because “OSU is a nonprofit educational institution.” However, the local residents in the area will suffer with exposures to air pollution in the form of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxides. What the proposal also neglects to address are the effects on the residents of Southeastern Ohio, the area that will most likely be supplying the fracked gas. The counties of this region will be disproportionately harmed by the continuation of an extremely destructive process.

Harrison, Carroll and Belmont counties will be those counties that see more fracking wastes, more water withdraws, more truck accidents, more air pollution, more water pollution, more social externalities, more man-camps, more ecosystem destruction and more health effects. By committing to this project, the future of residents of Southeast Ohio will be locked into years of more toxic fracking.

Natural gas is not a step in the right direction toward sustainability. It is just the opposite: a step backward that continues our reliance on a fossil-fuel resource that pushes the planet closer toward extinction. This project should be ended and replaced with a true renewable, sustainable energy source. The levelized cost of energy for solar and wind is already lower than that of natural gas without considering subsidies and environmental benefits.

We know renewable energy and energy efficiency can dramatically decrease our carbon footprint. Yet the leaders in the state continually thwart efforts to bring more solar and wind energy into the energy mix. The best example of the shenanigans surrounding energy choices in Ohio is the $60 million federal bribery scandal associated with HB 6. This bill would bail out two failing nuclear power plants along with some coal-fired plants.

Any carbon-based fuel source, whether it is coal, oil or gas, emits carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon dioxide can hang around in our atmosphere for thousands of years. One also must consider all the emissions of carbon dioxide during the full cycle of gas extraction including infrastructure construction, transport of frack water, frack wastes and equipment, and energy for concrete and chemicals used.

Any advantage natural gas has over coal as far as lower carbon-dioxide emissions when combusted is negated when we look at the amounts of methane spewing from natural gas operations every day. The methane molecule is about 90 times as effective at absorbing heat in the troposphere.

The atmospheric concentrations of methane have increased by over 150% since the industrial revolution. Jessika Trancik, an energy expert at MIT, said in order to keep from soaring above the two-degree Celsius goal, we must keep any extra methane from leaking into the atmosphere.

Lena Hoglund-Isakssona, a greenhouse gas expert at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, said, “It’s impossible to hit climate targets with methane in the mix.”

She also said a strong increase in global methane emissions after 2010 are “explained by increased methane emissions from shale gas production in North America.”

Methane from natural geological sources (shale gas) contains a different carbon isotope than methane from sources like wetlands. Therefore, it is possible to delineate between methane emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and emissions caused from releases in nature. A recent study in Greenland published in the February 2020 National Geographic showed oil and gas operations “have a much bigger footprint on methane emissions than previously known.”

Those operations result in methane emissions from drilling wells, transportation in pipelines, leaks, flares and storage. The Union of Concerned Scientists said, “Preliminary studies and field measurements show fugitive methane emissions range from 1-9% of total life-cycle emissions.”

In February 2018 in Belmont County, a blowout of a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary, XTO, released “more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations in a year.”

This leak was observed by the new satellite, Tropomi, a troposphere-monitoring instrument that can measure methane. The leak took 20 days to plug and released about 132 tons of methane per hour, according to reports from scientists. A Cornell University Study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Biogeosciences, reported methane emissions from industrial sources are much higher than previously thought or reported by the scientists.

We will never be able to lower greenhouse-gas emissions as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels, whether it be coal or natural gas.

Interested persons are encouraged to submit informal written comments to the Ohio Power Siting Board and include the Case Number 19-1641-EL-BGN.

These can be emailed to contactOPSB@puco.ohio.gov or mailed to Ohio Power Siting Board, 180 E. Board St., Columbus, OH 43215.