Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy released an interactive online tool “to help researchers, educators, and students explore future U.S. energy-use scenarios.” The Buildings Industry Transportation Electricity Scenarios (BITES) Tool is a scenario-based tool for analyzing how changes in energy demand and supply by economic sector can impact carbon dioxide emissions.
This web-based tool can be used in the middle and high school classroom to enable students to manipulate inputs, such as energy sources used for electricity generation and transportation fuel use, and to compare outputs and impacts on carbon dioxide emissions and the U.S. energy mix to the year 2050. Output data are made available in graphic form giving your students exposure to interpreting graphs.
To get started, watch the 4 minute intro video on the BITES website and then view scenarios that have already been created or, after a quick registration process, you can start building your own scenario. A good starting point would be to show your students either the 2010 or 2011 Annual Energy Outlook (U.S. Energy Information Administration) base case. By not making any changes to the inputs for this base scenario, the outputs will reflect current projections for the “business as usual” scenario. From here students can create their own scenarios, making modifications to one or more economic sectors and then comparing outputs to those of the base case.
Educator resources, including a tutorial and an online learning module are going to be available soon.
The BITES team is very interested in feedback, suggestions and lesson plans developed using the BITES tool! Please consider providing feedback on ways to improve the website and interface as well as sharing the lessons you build around using the BITES Tool. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BURN: An Energy Journal is the flagship program of The Public Radio Energy Project and winner of the 2012 American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) Kavli Science Journalism Award for their documentary special titled Particles: Nuclear Power After Fukushima (54 minutes in 3 segments) that examines the future of nuclear power one year after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan..
Two other documentaries are available, The Hunt for Oil: Risks and Rewards and The Power of One a two hour special that includes segments on fracking in Pennsylvania, drilling for oil in the Arctic and the quest to build better batteries.
This 2009 publication was prepared for the US Department of Energy (DOE) by the Groundwater Protection Council. According to the DOE website, this primer “underscores technology advances and challenges of shale gas development” and cites that “addressing water issues [is] key to increasing U.S. shale gas production.” Forty-two graphics, figures and photos can be found throughout this report which describes the nation’s major gas shale basins (Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville, Marcellus, Woodford, Antrim, New Albany) including the stratigraphy of each. The primer also includes a discussion of the regulatory framework in place for shale gas development as well as environmental considerations needed to reduce impacts to human health and the environment.
On Friday March 16th, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) released a draft report concluding that “Hydraulic fracturing can be done safely in North Carolina as long as the right protections are in place prior to issuance of any permits for the practice.” NCDENR cited that the “need for more information on groundwater resources in the area where drilling for shale gas may occur before making final decisions on environmental standards.”
According to the press release, the draft report contains a set of initial recommendations developed by NCDENR in consultation with the Department of Commerce should the General Assembly choose to allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. These recommendations are outlined in the executive summary (pdf) and described further here and in the full report (pdf).
The final report to the General Assembly is due May 1.
As part of the DENR Shale gas study, a multi-stakeholder review team released a report in February 2012 making a number of recommendations for regulations the state should consider if it moves forward with developing an oil and gas regulatory program.
After introducing your students to the process of hydraulic fracturing in the context of an aquifer, I think it would be interesting to ask them what regulations they think should be put in place by NCDENR if the state decides to move forward with this technology and then compare their answers to the recommendations outlined in the report.
In December 2011, Marilyn Brown from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, along with co-authors from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University released a paper titled Myths and Facts About Electricity in the U.S. South. In this publication, the authors identify six myths about clean electricity in the southern United States and in doing so identify “new starting points for energy policy development” by evaluating these myths in the context of future energy policy scenarios.
One myth that is examined that is also of significance to helping today’s learners more critically evaluate future energy options is myth#6, which states that “power resource decisions have little impact on water resources.” The paper cites that 54% of freshwater withdrawals in the South are for thermoelectric generation; thus, water conservation through energy planning is significant for this region. The paper describes the disconnect that often exists between a state’s energy planning and water conservation policies citing that “energy impacts on water usage is often ignored.” While recognizing that knowledge of this connection may not alter decision-making associated with power generation, the authors cite that the connection should not be ignored in light of growing populations and shrinking water resources. This is just the kind of connection I want today’s students to be able to make!
It would be interesting to ask your students to examine their own myths around energy consumption; I am willing to bet that most students operate under the assumption that their energy consumption does not impact local water resources, for instance. I imagine their myths would be very different from the ones identified in this paper; however, this exercise could serve to start a conversation about the myths and underlying belief systems that might be operating as future energy generation options as well as energy efficiency and conservation strategies are considered in your city or town.
In fall of 2011, the Department of Energy released its Quadrennial Technology Review which had the goal of establishing “a framework for thinking clearly about a necessary transformation of the Nation’s energy system.” The report outlines six strategies for addressing the nation’s energy security, economic competitiveness and environmental impacts of energy: increase vehicle efficiency, electrify the vehicle fleet, deploy alternative hydrocarbon fuels, increase building and industrial efficiency, modernize the grid, and deploy clean electricity. A 3- minute video summarizing the six strategies outlined in the QTR is available. The report provides and up-to-date overview of “today’s energy landscape” and energy challenges and describes and prioritizes the technology adoption and innovation that will support each strategy.
Duke University’s report, Considering Shale Gas Extraction in North Carolina: Lessons from Other States, was released today. According to the press release, this report (pdf) “offers several health and environmental measures for North Carolina lawmakers to consider as they debate legalizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “
The researchers cite seven measures that policymakers should consider “to help avoid and mitigate any possible negative effects.
- Securing baseline data on groundwater prior to shale gas production and at each stage of the drilling process;
- Funding for regulatory programs and an agency to carry them out;
- Planning for withdrawals from area water supplies related to the production;
- Minimizing the risks of spills and contamination caused by equipment failure and human error by implementing safety requirements;
- Thinking through options for the disposal and treatment of wastewater resulting from the hydraulic fracturing process;
- Assessing the impacts on air quality and assure attainment of federal ground-level ozone standards; and
- Requiring some degree of disclosure regarding the chemicals used in fracturing fluid.”
The proposed Keystone Pipeline Project provides great material for a class debate or if a debate isn’t possible, you can at least introduce students to this topic and expose them to this issue from diverse perspectives.
This 11 minute PBS Newshour segment provides an overview of the proposed pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands fields to Texas refineries and introduces viewers to both sides of this controversial project through interviews with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s Robert Bryce (for) and environmentalist Bill McKibben (against).
The Union of Concern Scientists says it well: “A convergence of factors is driving our society towards greater reliance on natural gas as a source of energy. An increased focus on the potential reductions in carbon emissions and air pollution from burning natural gas instead of coal or oil have made natural gas an environmentally attractive alternative to other fossil fuels. Concurrently, improved techniques for extracting unconventional sources of gas have dramatically raised estimates of the U.S.’s available gas resource.”
For North Carolina this means exploration of its shale gas reserves and the potential for extracting this gas through the process of hydraulic fracturing.
Session Law 2011-276 requires the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in cooperation with the Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, Attorney General’s Office and Rural Advancement Foundation International, to conduct a study of the potential development of shale gas in North Carolina and make recommendations regarding the regulatory framework necessary for development of this resource. The study must be presented to the legislature by May 1, 2012 and at least two public hearings on this issue will be held in the Triassic Basin where approximately 80,000 acres have been deemed to contain a commercially viable reserve of natural gas.
The webcast from the first public hearing, held on October 10th in Sanford (Lee County) about the oil and gas study being conducted by DENR is available and includes information about hydraulic fracturing in general as well as an overview of shale gas resources in NC. The presentation is also available for download and includes slides you may find useful when teaching about this topic.
For those of you teaching in counties in the Triassic Basin that are under consideration in this study, your students may be interested in listening to and summarizing the public comments and concerns encountered during the webcast which start around 44 minutes into the 2 hour public hearing.