New High-Tech Imaging Protecting the Planet and Saving Lives

A revolutionary new technology is not only helping to protect the environment, but is now being used to save lives.  Increasingly, thermal or optical gas imaging cameras are being used to detect dangerous fugitive emissions from refineries and other industrial facilities.   An article in today’s WSJ, Making Drilling Rigs Safer, tells the story of a new startup, Rebellion Photonics, started by Allison Lami Sawyer and Robert Kester, who are using thermal imaging to save the lives of those who work in jobs, such as the oil and gas industry, where explosive emissions can kill.  Given the revolutionary potential of this technology, Rebellion Photonics was one of three finalists for “WSJ Startup of the Year.” 

The science behind these new camers is fairly straightforward, enabling us to see infrared wavelengths absorbed by gases not visible to the naked eye.  Here’s the technology being used to find a potentially deadly natural gas leak. 

This technology is transformational on so many levels and, I predict, will revolutionize industry.  Not only because of its huge benefits, but its small price, relative to the adverse impacts from undetected fugitive gases.   These new tools are also now being deployed by EPA enforcement to catch the unwary who, in many cases, are violating environmental laws by not finding and fixing gas leaks in the course production.   It’s not at all uncommon these days to spot EPA enforcement officials, in unmarked cars, siting outside the fence-line with a thermal imaging camera in hand, collecting all the evidence they need.  Feeling somewhat exposed, companies are feeling compelled to install these technologies at their own fence-lines to proactively detect leaks before the regulators do.  Given that the ready availability of this technology is driving enforcement and exposing companies to greater enforcement risks, it will continue to blossom into big business, as reflected in the upcoming annual LDAR-Fugitive Emission Symposium, slated for New Orleans in May 2014.

Good Intentions Leading to Bad Policy – The Ethanol Quagmire

The American Petroleum Institute this week filed suit against EPA, seeking to overturn the agency’s renewable fuel standards that require 10% of gasoline to be blended with biofuel or ethanol, made from grass, wood chips, corn and other plant materials.  This is one of those requirements DCF 1.0with many detractors and odd bedfellows, that is opposed by not only oil and gas, but by conservative and environmental groups as well.  As John Upton over at Grist points out, only the ethanol lobby seems to like it.  While environmental groups oppose it on environmental grounds, CEI and Cato have long argued that federal subsidies for ethanol should be phased out, as ethanol harms fuel and food prices.  And there simply isn’t enough of it to provide a steady cost-effective supply to blenders.  The blended ethanol fuels, e.g., E10, are also causing havoc with drivers, whose engines may not tolerate the ethanol.  AAA has cautioned drivers about the potential for damage to vehicles and voided warranties. Continue reading

EPA Goes Big with Air and Water Proposals

Toward the waning hours of every administration the pace of regulating at EPA picks up – you can set your watch to it.

Last week was no exception, with two big announcements by EPA’s leadership affecting water and air resources.  As part of POTUS’ climate change priority, EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, announced on Friday EPA’s intention to move forward with a regulation to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.  The current best hope for meeting the aggressive limits being sought by EPA is the use of new technologies that will promote the practice of carbon capture and storage, where carbon is removed from coal emissions and injected deep under the earth’s surface.  After Friday’s hearing before the House Energy Committee, skeptical Republican senior leadership, who are concerned about the impacts on the nation’s energy costs, have vowed to block EPA’s efforts. Continue reading

EPA Scores Big Victory in Chesapeake Bay Decision

Last Friday, the U.S. EPA scored a big victory against industry opponents who imagesCAE38NBGchallenged the Agency’s authority and efforts to establish a cleanup strategy for the Chesapeake Bay.  The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of EPA upholding the total maximum daily load (TMDL) scheme for the Bay restoration efforts.  Bay TMDL Order  I have former clients and friends on both sides of this notable litigation, so win, lose or draw, there would have been no victory lap for me. Continue reading

To EPA’s New Administrator – Don’t Forget About the Water

As many of you who read this blog know, I talk a lot about the water problems that still plague our Nation.  The remaining sources of water pollution remain many and diffuse and are particularly local in nature (defined as nonpoint sources under the Clean Water Act), which the Act does not authorize EPA to directly regulate.  Rather, the solutions to reducing and eliminating nonpoint source pollution is the primary responsibility of the States as stated in Section 101

It is the national policy that programs for the control of nonpoint sources of pollution be developed and implemented in an expeditious manner so as to enable the goals of [the Act] to be met through the control of both point and nonpoint sources of pollution.  Section 101(a)(7) Continue reading

EPA’s Assault on State Sovereignty

Is the title of a stinging new report by the American Legislative Exchange Council.  For those who are unfamiliar with ALEC, it’s a non-profit composed of legislators, businesses, and foundations, and is strongly supportive of state rights, free-markets, and limited government.  It’s a good organization and on balance promotes thoughtful ideas and policies on more effective government.  The report itself was authored by William Yeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose tagline is “Free Markets and Limited Government” and leans notably libertarian.  So, right out of the start-gate, one can appreciate the underlying anti-EPA biases that may emanate from its pages. The raging battle is particularly acute with respect to national energy policies and air regulations (think climate change regulations), as reflected in a July 10 CEI report titled EPA’s Woeful Deadline Performance Raises Questions About Agency Competence, Climate Change Regulations, and “Sue and Settle”.  Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently weighed in with a report challenging EPA’s long-standing claim that more regulations yield more jobs.  Make no mistake, this reflects an all out insurrection against a powerful and oft tone-deft Agency by freedom-loving, large-government hating groups. Continue reading

Conservation 2.0 – regulations alone won’t fix a broken earth

I spent some quality time this week in the wonderful city of Cincinnati, home of the great WKRP radio, with a lot of tremendous folks discussing how we as a society can make meaningful progress toward protecting the environment and restoring our nation’s rivers, streams and estuaries.  This was a great week for Conservation 2.0 as Joe Whitworth of The Freshwater Trust likes to call it.   Continue reading