Tag Archive for: Emissions

Locus at 25 Years: Blockchain for Emissions Management

From its founding, Locus recognized an opportunity to think bigger about managing the environmental data and squeezing more value. In 1999, Locus introduced the first cloud-based ecological data management software, EIM. In 2000 Locus offered the first generation of the Locus Platform to house EHS compliance apps. Over the last 25 years, Locus software has expanded to cover more and more aspects of environmental compliance, sustainability (ESG), energy and water quality management, air emissions, waste, mitigation, and stewardship for the companies that use it. We provided software that helped Locus’ customers be credible with their environmental and ESG reporting. 

Locus wants to give companies software tools that enable them to be proactive in their environmental stewardship; to date, most organizations have incorporated environmental policies reactively, primarily driven by regulations. Greenwashing, “a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly,” seems commonplace. 

To paraphrase Sam Cooke, change is coming, and it can’t be stopped. Today, we are experiencing new environmental challenges. EHS compliance is being replaced by a much stronger driver–the existential threat to the planet Earth arising from climate change caused by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels. New tools are needed to help organizations comply with expanded governmental regulations and manage the growing avalanche of data to assess sustainability issues, calculate GHG emissions, etc. Locus’s ESG platform is well-positioned to meet this need and is used by many companies for these purposes.

Locus’ vision extends well beyond the current requirements that ESG is constructed to address.  Our company is looking at longer-term applications for its software by considering the role of technology in combatting the collective environmental challenges that beset us. Given the heavy and relentless toll of human activities on the planet, we need to address how we can gather and analyze sufficient data to accurately assess where we stand and what changes are required to alter our course? Collecting and tracking all these data, examining them in the aggregate, and understanding how all our activities are affecting climate change, habitat erosion, and public health issues can, in the end, help society address these challenges collectively. Without adequate data to measure emission levels and the rate of changes we see in the environment doing and at what rate, without a sound factual basis, it’s going to be impossible to mitigate the damage at the correct scale. 

At first glance, the convergence of Blockchain with ESG reporting might seem to be contradictory, but a more in-depth analysis of trends shows its value. Blockchain has rapidly transformed into a financial reporting and attestation tool that has caught the attention of many vital decision-makers and technology drivers. At the same time, the importance of ESG has never been more pronounced. Combining the two could be the key to making ESG reporting more straightforward and more meaningful. The broader trends are alike: each has been steadily making inroads into organizational management and the reporting landscape. The difference is that now, with accelerated digital transformation and automation, both broader trends have moved into a much sharper focus. 

Blockchain technology is ideally suited for the complexities of tracking a global supply chain. Improving the traceability of supply chains is old news in terms of goods, but supply chains are much bigger than that. Securing the information that drives business decision-making is where Blockchain can deliver significant value.  

Blockchain technology will allow companies to track resources from the first appearance in their supply chain, certifying their products’ compliance with regulations and their quality. Blockchain technology would enable government agencies to effectively aggregate emissions quantities and origins across geographies, industries, and other criteria. More importantly, all parties would need only one record software system to avoid constant synchronization, submittals, and reporting requirements.  

Though their data may be more transparent, corporations benefit considerably from adopting a technology in which all their emissions and other data reside in a single record system. Along the way, companies would undoubtedly lower their operating cost and, at the same time, reduce the dizzying number of unconnected, heavily supported, siloed software applications they currently operate to keep in compliance with existing environmental regulations. 

This is the fifth post highlighting the evolution of Locus Technologies over the past 25 years. The first four can be found here, here, here, and here. This series continues with Locus at 25 Years: A Unified Approach to EHS and ESG.

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    Oil companies agree to reduce methane emissions

    A coalition of the world’s oil companies agreed to reduce methane emissions from natural gas extraction—part of an effort to shore up the climate credentials of the hydrocarbon.

    The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative said it would target reducing methane emissions to less than 0.25% of the total natural gas the group of 13 member companies produces by 2025.

    Methane is the main component of natural gas. During extraction, transport, and processing, it often leaks into the environment. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. In the short term, it traps more heat although it stays shorter in the atmosphere. According to the International Energy Agency, one ton of methane is equivalent to as much as 87 tons of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.

    Natural gas production is growing. Many big oil companies are increasing production of natural gas to offset higher emissions from other hydrocarbon and coal sources. The switch makes the oil-and-gas industry look better when demonstrating emission reduction to limit climate change.

    For that reason, some oil companies, Shell, in particular, has tilted its production mix toward more gas output.

    According to 2018 report by the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, as much as $34 billion of global gas supply is lost each year through leaks and venting. That is another valid reason to limit those methane escapes and park the proceeds to the bottom line. That in itself could fund part of the effort to stop or reduce the leaks.

    Blockchain: aggregate emissions reporting

    In the next few years, an opportunity exists to make significant advances in how we monitor and manage environmental emissions to the air, soil, and water, potentially resulting in significant disruptions in current approaches. Currently, industries and commercial establishments monitor their emissions and submit reports on a regular basis, often as frequently as quarterly, to federal and state agencies to demonstrate they are meeting regulatory requirements. However, no one on the generating or receiving end of these data dumps and reports is aggregating these emissions to create a more composite, inclusive picture of emissions across sources or media. The reason is that emissions of different types and to different media are reported to separate regulatory entities that, in general, do not interact or talk to one another. And although there are significant potential benefits to both generators and regulators in reviewing integrated environmental data sets, our traditional methods of storing and sharing this information make such integrations a hugely difficult effort.

    Only by integrating all available data can we begin to (1) assess local, regional, and ultimately the global impacts of these emissions, and (2) identify net improvements to our environmental practices that are only apparent when looking at the combined, interconnected body of collected data. Blockchain enables the integration of these data sets for quick, yet comprehensive “big picture” assessments.

    Blockchain technology is a highly disruptive technology that offers an efficient way of storing records (called blocks) which are linked using cryptography. While still in its infancy, blockchain promises to change the world as we know it, much like the internet did after its introduction in 1991. Today, the technology is most widely associated with digital currencies and money transfers. In time, however, blockchain technology will not only shift the way we use the internet, but it will also revolutionize the global economy and almost all transactional business that relies on an intermediary.

    One Environment, Health, and Safety and Sustainability  (EHS+S) sector well positioned to benefit from blockchain technology is emissions monitoring and reporting. I reported more on the technology and its impact on EHS space here.

    Environmental monitoring current practice

    Presently, companies with emissions monitor these following regulatory requirements, input the resulting data into a database or spreadsheet, perform emissions calculations on the entered readings, and then report the results of these calculations to regulators. The entire focus of this process is to (1) determine whether emissions of a single chemical or chemicals exceed prescribed levels and (2) evaluate the effect of these discharges on the media to which the compounds have been introduced by the polluting industry or other sources. There is no suitable software technology or mechanism to look at aggregate emissions across geographical areas or sectors or how emissions of one type interact with emissions of an entirely different kind. Examining such interactions could be far more critical than monitoring and assessing the impacts on human health and the environment of single parameter emissions to only one media, and may reveal new opportunities for optimizing our EHS+S practices for reduced cost with similar or improved performance.

    Aggregate emissions

    To take a hypothetical scenario, consider the possible consequential damages when two incompatible streams of chemicals or waste mix to create even worse chemicals as a result of their chemical reaction.  EPA has only recently started looking into these type of scenarios. Its Envirofacts databases allow the public to retrieve information from multiple sources of Envirofacts’ System Data relevant to your area of interest. However, each database is a separate silo of information (Figure 1). The next step that ought to be taken is to assess and as needed, report on the possible interaction of incompatible emission sources that are nearby, but are independently monitored and stored in disconnected databases (see Figure 2 below).

    EPA Envirofacts 1

    Figure 1: EPA Envirofacts databases allow the public to retrieve information from multiple sources, but only one source at time and disconnected from each other.

    Most everyone taking prescription medicines comes to understand that interactions between drugs are quite common. Imagine something similar to the interaction of drugs in your body happening on a much larger scale in the environment. One does not have to imagine. EPA recently imposed the highest environmental fine ever at the 2,530-acre Eastern Michaud Flats Contamination Superfund site near Pocatello, Idaho. Two adjacent on-site phosphate ore processing facilities, the FMC Corporation and the J.R. Simplot Company, began operations at the site in the 1940s. The J.R. Simplot facility produces solid and liquid fertilizers using phosphate ore, sulfur, air and natural gas. The FMC plant is North America’s largest producer of elemental phosphorus which is used in a variety of products from cleaning compounds to foods.

    Operations at these plants have independently contaminated both the groundwater and soil with hazardous chemicals. Both plants have received numerous environmental violations, many of which were settled with the EPA. Each of the sites has its environmental ills (and fines), but the more significant environmental problem is a combined regional plume. Everyone knows that acids and metals do not play well together. Sulphuric acid from the J.R. Simplot operation has leaked from surface impoundments into the groundwater and, on its way downstream, has leached all kinds of toxic metals from the FMC site, creating a highly poisonous plume of contaminants. An accurate assessment of the environmental disaster that exists in this area requires that the environmental impact of the two plants be examined in toto. Blockchain-based monitoring technology would allow both the public and regulators to see the resultant subsurface commingled plume and possibly pave the way to a more comprehensive remedy.

    Issues involving contamination of multiple media have also arisen at sites where discharges of volatile organic compounds or VOCs have occurred. In Silicon Valley, where I live, many engineering consultants have made their living chasing plumes of VOC chemicals (e.g., TCE) and then, when deemed appropriate, have installed various groundwater treatment plants tucked in the back of parking lots of companies like Google or HP to ameliorate this contamination. Santa Clara, the central county in Silicon Valley, is home to more Superfund sites than any other county in the United States.

    The process is analogous to rinsing detergent from a sponge. After many rinses, it still seems to have more in it. It is an endless process with little environmental benefit. Has anyone looked at the additional impact of the high energy demand for treatment systems that have minimal effect on improving groundwater, but can contribute significant CO2 equivalents to the atmosphere?

    With blockchain technology, we could simultaneously measure the positive effect of the treatment plant removing contaminants from water and the negative impact that this same plant produces by contributing to the CO2 emissions. Quantities of removed chemicals over time could be plotted in real time vs. CO2 emissions produced resulting from high energy usage of the treatment plant. This would allow companies operating treatment plants and regulators overseeing them to determine at what point in time continued treatment could be harming, not helping the environment. It is these type of analyses that would benefit society and help with the decision to shut down a remediation process when diminishing returns of the treatment system are reached.

    EPA Envirofacts 2

    Figure 2: Interaction of incompatible emission sources is better managed if emissions are aggregated than if independently monitored and stored in disconnected databases.

    How would blockchain technology help in a scenario like this? Chemical removal rate would be tracked in one block (of the chain) and CO2 emissions in another. Owner and regulator would agree on the formula to determine when the treatment process ceases to produce a significant environmental benefit. At this point, the system would be shut down. All of this would be monitored and measured in real time, and more importantly, it would be transparent to the owner, regulator, and the public.

    Emissions measures should be preemptive, not reactive

    When you think about emissions, they are generally (except incidents and accidents)  operating problems that can be managed and optimized before discharges even happen. It is to the benefit of companies to do it this way. Every process that has an exhaust or smokestack for dispersing air emissions or pipelines for discharging liquids to surface receptors or water bodies could be managed to reduce harmful emissions coming out the system regardless of regulatory prescribed permissible levels. As an organization with a legacy environmental site knows, it is far more cost-effective to eliminate the original cause of emission than to spend decades of effort to remediate after the fact.

    Unfortunately, many businesses are currently not genuinely looking at the aggregated data they collect about their emissions, wastewater, and energy use alongside their operational metrics. Current practices for EHS+S data management only allow for very simplistic comparison of normalized indicators between these disparate data sets.  But it would benefit these operators to gather, aggregate and analyze data, and then make better, more cost-effective decisions as part of their risk-management protocols, while still maintaining their environmental compliance requirements. Blockchain technology allows for review of more detailed data when making decisions with aggregated data sources so that managers can look beyond the simple normalized performance indicators. For example, many organizations only review their environmental and sustainability performance on an annual basis, mainly because the current tools to aggregate this data require them to be evaluated on a consistent time frame, and there is a significant investment in bringing all of the relevant data together. But through blockchain technology, the data maintain their connection at every level.  This allows for trend evaluation at other time frames not currently being examined. So if some short-term operational practice causes a spike in emissions, that issue can be identified and resolved immediately, rather than waiting for the end of the year, when the emissions have already happened, and the effect may not even be apparent when averaged out on an annual time frame. Then, even looking beyond the facility or organization, blockchain also allows for data aggregation across industry, region, and country, so that we will be in a better position to forecast the future and assess the viability of different measures to ameliorate the problems confronting us.

    A bigger picture

    There is a growing need for companies to bring together information from their vast disconnected databases, single tenant clouds, and spreadsheets, and then mine the data they collect from these sources. In a decade or so, planet Earth may be a meshed grid of static sensors coupled with movable ones installed on people, animals (yes animals roaming in the wild), transportation devices, and other moving objects to collect data in real time. The conversation about the environmental landscape has evolved drastically over the last 50 years as we continue to understand the extent to which human activity has affected the planet. Companies and society need a collective and holistic understanding of the problems we face.

    The only way to understand the full picture, and in turn to act meaningfully on a global level, is for all individuals and companies to understand the impact of their activities. It’s impossible to mitigate the net risks and effects of these activities on the planet when we have not fully assembled the data to characterize the problem and understand the full picture. Blockchain technology offers the best path forward, making it possible for environmental data be integrated at multiple levels. Any coordinated effort of this magnitude will be years in the making, but every journey starts with a first step. There are two impediments to institute a change like this: technology (until recently, blockchain did not exist) and a government with the initiative to require such technology. Just as was the case with the internet revolution of the nineties, the rate of progress in technology is surpassing politicians’ ability to come to grips with its impact on society.

    So far, there have been no imposed data exchange standards; a prerequisite for a broad data exchange, land for implementation of blockchain technology.  But in the meantime, progressive organizations will want to start taking advantage of this technology to look at their operations and make more informed EHS+S decisions.

    Looking forward with blockchain technology

    Perhaps blockchain technology is not ready for prime time. Some may argue that it creates a secondary problem of additional energy consumption much like water treatment systems described earlier. This is a theme that is advocated by some media outlets and blockchain skeptics who argue that the computer algorithms require significant amounts of electricity to power the servers on which they run. Estimates of blockchain’s soaring energy use are likely overstating the electric power used as the current debate on power consumption is not backed by hard data. When it comes to technology, history has consistently shown that the cost will always decrease, and the impact will still increase over time. It is inevitable that blockchain technology will become more accessible with reduced infrastructure over the next few years.

    Blockchain IoT Decentralization

    Blockchain could completely change how companies run their businesses and present new opportunities far beyond sustainability and environmental emissions management.

    We are living in a world where companies and governmental agencies are not able to comprehensively analyze  EHS+S information efficiently. Using blockchain technology will allow organizations to track, store, rollup, gain insights into, and also share their data with other interested parties as needed. It has the potential to put accurate and verifiable information into the hands of companies and regulating agencies more quickly. To make better progress on how we use EHS+S information, regulators will need to find ways that reward positive and proactive behaviors. We are not going to solve these issues by fining emitters until they behave. Blockchain technology can help us move us away from the punitive approach and toward a more collaborative one by assisting companies to reduce their emissions while lowering their operating costs at the same time. Social sharing elements may also play a role here, giving companies that benefit from the fruits of blockchain technology a valuable marketing and PR advantage over those who do not adopt this technology, and as such, lag behind in their progress on environmental issues.

    The Unclear Future of Carbon Capture

    With the recent policy standards called for by President Obama, focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has moved to the forefront of the sustainability initiative. Much of this concern circles the hazardous effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the atmosphere, and the longest standing contributors to its release: the smokestacks that are still problematic even in the most modern of coal plants.

    Many scientists agree that the hope of deferring effects of climate change relies largely on our ability to capture, and lock away this carbon. This process, if implemented correctly, would greatly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by removing much of it from the emissions released. It would then require formulating a secure method of permanent storage for this collected carbon.

    Interestingly enough, we know how to carry out these carbon-capturing procedures, and we have for nearly a century, yet little movement has been made toward actually practicing these methods. The reason behind this lack of momentum, simply put, is cost.

    The cost to implement carbon capture and storage is high enough that many companies would not consider it without a requirement made by the federal government. The process would require retrofitting old plants, alongside the energy required for the actual procedure- a large enough sum of energy that it downgrades the efficiency of the plant, making it an undesirable action business-wise sans any federal regulation.

    If we find a way to improve the cost-effectiveness, storage concerns still plague the campaign for implementation. We know that injecting liquids underground has been linked to earthquakes, and there is still the possibility of the carbon dioxide tainting drinking water, or even escaping into the atmosphere- a reality that would negate the entire process. These concerns have called for pause on the entire movement.

    Even while Obama is pushing to limit the emissions of U.S. power plants, there is little expectation of decreasing the amount of power we harness from coal in the near future. Our dependence on this source of energy, combined with the opposition against Obama’s policy aspirations, make that fact clear.

    Though coal may be the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, other sources of energy are also subjected to scrutiny, including natural gas collected through fracking practices. According to geologist Stuart Haszeldine at the University of Edinburgh, “if you want to carry on using those fossil hydrocarbons that means cleaning up their emissions,” and capturing this carbon he states, “is the single best way of doing that.”

    While the future of this process is still unclear, it is furthering the initiative toward sustainability. Climate change is becoming a stark reality, with implications we don’t even fully understand yet, and many are calling for progress in any way possible.

    The Battle Against Ozone-depleting Substances

    Substances that contribute to the depletion of our ozone are a serious threat. Because ozone is our first line of defense against harmful UVB ultraviolet light from the sun, its decrease can lead to many serious consequences. These include a possible increase in skin cancer and other health risks, cataracts, and a decrease in plant growth.

    Ozone-depleting substances (or certain chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and halons) come in various forms. These substances are commonly used in refrigerants, which are present in air conditioners and refrigerators. Luckily, authorities took notice of the negative impacts of these substances, and The Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement that began the worldwide phaseout of ozone-depleting substances (currently carried out in the U.S. through Title VI of the Clean Air Act) was enacted in 1987. However, the fight against these harmful substances is far from over.

    Just last September U.S. grocery store giant, Safeway, allegedly violated the federal Clean Air Act. The company agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty, and spent approximately $4 million to reduce its emissions of ozone-depleting substances from refrigeration equipment at 659 of its stores.

    Hydrochlorofluorocarbon HCFC-22, the specific substance that was said to be leaking from Safeway’s equipment, is up to 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming emissions. The allegations Safeway faced include failing to promptly repair leaks of this substance, and failing to keep adequate records of the servicing of its refrigeration equipment. In response to these allegations, the changes Safeway had committed to were expected to prevent over 100,000 pounds of future releases of ozone-depleting refrigerants.

    Further plans for the U.S. to continue reducing ozone-depleting refrigerants include a production and import ban on HCFC-22 by 2020.

    EPA Makes Public Fracking Rules, Delays Compliance Until 2015–New Rules Deal With Emissions, Not Drinking Water

    Companies using hydraulic fracturing technique will have until 2015 to comply with new rules designed to reduce air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency released today long-awaited rules on hydraulic fracturing, in one of its first efforts to regulate the widely used technique of extracting oil and natural gas. There was no mention about groundwater protection.

    The rules, first proposed in July 2011, would require drillers to capture the emissions resulting from drilling the wells. The oil and gas industry representatives last week told the EPA that controls on wells that have low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from drilling-related emissions won’t be cost-effective. American Petroleum Institute (API) opposed the rule and suggested that it should only apply only to wells whose gas stream is at least 10-percent volatile organic compounds.

    “By ensuring the capture of gases that were previously released to pollute our air and threaten our climate, these updated standards will not only protect our health, but also lead to more product for fuel suppliers to bring to market,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

    EPA to Ease Air Emissions Rule on Power Plants

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under industry pressure, is expected to ease an air quality rule that would require power plants in 27 states to slash emissions, said the Wall Street Journal. It appears that changes are needed because the original rule from July 2011 required steep reductions too quickly. This summer the administration, pressed by industry, forced the EPA to abandon an air-quality rule to curb ozone-forming smog. The agency also has delayed a rule on greenhouse-gas emissions.

    The power-plant rule affects about 1,000 plants, requiring them to cut sulfur dioxide by 73% and nitrogen oxide by 54% from 2005 levels. Reductions must begin in January 2012, with compliance by 2014. Companies are expected to install new pollution controls or switch from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.

    The EPA plans to allow certain states and companies to emit more pollutants than it previously permitted. EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said, “While we don’t have anything to announce at this time, EPA often makes technical adjustments … because data, including data in some cases provided by industry, turns out to be incorrect, outdated or incomplete.” It is interesting that EPA is using the real world and real time data and information to fine tune the rule. This is welcome news for both industry and environmental groups as it shows that future rule making will rely more on actual data and less on politics.

    The move comes amid a backlash over the rule enacted last July, which the EPA has said will protect public health and prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths. Critics contend it will cost jobs, increase power costs and threaten electric reliability.

    The EPA changes are expected to allow for emissions increases ranging from 1% to 4% above the July requirement, depending on the pollutant, said the WSJ. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is intended to reduce smog-forming chemicals emitted from power plants that often drift into other states. The pollutants can cause heart attacks and respiratory illnesses.

    When the rule is in place some utilities are planning to shut down a portion of their operation in order to comply. Some states have attacked the rule and sued the EPA, saying the regulations are unnecessary and dangerous.

    Tag Archive for: Emissions

    Locus Technologies obtains accreditation as verification body for Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)

    Locus staff continue to prove expertise in this emerging compliance area with accredited staff throughout California and the Midwest. 

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., 27 January 2020
    Locus Technologies, (Locus), industry leader in water quality, EHS, sustainability, and compliance management software, is pleased to announce they are among the first accredited verification bodies for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program administered by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Locus verifiers were accredited for fuel pathway applications, alternative fuel transactions, and petroleum-based fuel reports.

    Originally adopted in 2009, the goal of the LCFS program is to reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of the transportation fuel pool. The LCFS is one of the key AB 32 measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California, while reducing petroleum dependency and achieving improved air quality. The program has grown in scope, and certified third-party verifiers can now review both applications and routine reporting.

    Locus Technologies has been a certified third-party reviewer of GHG verifications for CARB since 2010 under the Mandatory Reporting Rule and maintains an unmatched track record. Not one of over 500 GHG verifications by Locus has been overturned, a standard the company intends to match with LCFS reporting.

    Locus has staff and expertise to review Tier 1 fuel pathway applications and annual reports under LCFS as well as other LCFS projects, with verifiers located in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and in the Midwest. Locus also offers software products designed to assist reporters in complying with the LCFS program.