Monthly Archive for December, 2009

Minor in Environmental & Sustainability Studies is proposed

The PSC’s Curriculum, Research, and Community Engagement Working Group has formally proposed an undergraduate minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. The proposal is on the docket for consideration at the Feb. 2 meeting of the Curriculum Committee of the Undergraduate Assembly. If approved by the Undergraduate Assembly, which could happen as early as its March 2 meeting, the proposal will be sent to the state Coordinating Board for approval. The working group is hopeful that the minor can be launched in Fall 2010.

The 18-credit-hour, interdisciplinary minor, to be coordinated by the School of Urban and Public Affairs, would provide undergraduates across the campus an opportunity to broaden their education, enhance their understanding of pressing environmental issues such as climate change, and better equip themselves for a range of “green careers.” It would require students to take a 3-hour core course as well as prescribed courses in three categories:

  • Liberal Arts, Social and Cultural Studies;
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering; and
  • Architecture and Urban and Public Affairs.

The proposal represents an effort to implement the working group’s October 2008 recommendation that the University expand its undergraduate curricular offerings in fields relating to environmental affairs.

Proposal, Dec. 9

Working group white paper, Oct. 2008


It’s a big week. Here’s the latest:

DAY 1 and 2 ROUNDUP:

Hope for deal at conference
The UN climate change conference opened Monday in an atmosphere of hope for a deal in Copenhagen within the next two weeks.

192 nations at UN climate conference in Copenhagen
The conference, the climax of two years of contentious negotiations, convened in an upbeat mood after a series of promises by rich and emerging economies to curb their greenhouse gases, but with major issues yet to be resolved.

EU keeps world in suspense on 30 percent vow
To keep up pressure on other major players, mainly USA and China, the EU will hide its cards on a key issue until the very last moment of the UN conference on climate change. This is according to the Swedish Minister for Environment, Andreas Carlgren. As Sweden holds the rotating EU presidency, Mr. Carlgren is negotiating on behalf of the union.

EU rumoured to provide “one-three billion euro”
Quoting an unnamed diplomatic source, Financial Times Deutschland reports the European Union to be ready to put money on the table during the ongoing UN climate summit in Copenhagen as a sign of good faith. The sum will be earmarked for climate change mitigation and adaptation in vulnerable third world countries during the next three years.

US body aids Copenhagen conference
Coinciding with the beginning of the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen, a US body has opened a new door to legislation that may reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) concludes that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are a threat to public health. As such, the six substances can be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

“Danish text” raises furore
According to The Guardian, developing countries “react furiously” after a draft text allegedly written by the UN conference’s host country was leaked Tuesday.

UN chief optimistic of robust climate deal
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon predicted Tuesday that a robust agreement to combat climate change will be reached in Copenhagen and implemented immediately.

Top UN scientist: What Climategate?
In harsh wording Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, defends British colleagues whose hacked emails have ignited debate over the credibility of mainstream climate science.

Study: Few climate refugees leave their countries
The number of people affected by natural disasters has more than doubled in recent years. However, fears that millions of poor people will migrate to rich countries as a result of climate change has been greatly overstated, a new study from the International Organization for Migration shows.

No doubt: The earth is warming
The British Met Office has published station temperature records for over 1,500 of the stations that make up the global land surface temperature record. The data shows that global-average land temperatures have risen over the last 150 years and that global warming has increased since the 1970s.

Bangladesh asks for 15 percent of any climate fund
Even before any climate adaptation fund has seen the light of day, Bangladesh makes substantial demands.

France wants financial tax in climate accord
France is pushing for a political agreement at the climate conference in Copenhagen to include a tax on financial transactions to help developing countries, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says.

Gordon Brown: Go for a 30 percent cut
British Prime Minister urges EU to lay the cards on the table.


Infrared video of emissions from University’s gas well site

The Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), sponsored by the environmental advocacy organization Earthworks, recently obtained a series of videos produced by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) showing infrared images of natural gas facilities emitting plumes of volatile gases not visible to the naked eye. Texas OGAP, a collaboration between OGAP and Texas activists, has now posted these videos on YouTube. One of the videos depicts emissions from the UT Arlington gas well site.

Last week TCEQ verified the authenticity of the YouTube video and provided me with three additional infrared videos of the University well site (see list of links below). One is a slightly revised version of the August  footage; it includes a visible-light photo of the installation and correctly identifies the operator of the equipment venting gases as DFW Midstream (the version on YouTube incorrectly indicates the operator is Carrizo Oil and Gas).

The other two were shot by agency personnel in October. One shows emissions from the same vent stack depicted in the August footage, which TCEQ staff member Ken Rozacky told me is part of a natural gas compressor. The second shows emissions from  a vent stack on equipment identified as a dehydrator.

OGAP obtained the original set of TCEQ infrared videos through a formal Public Information Request (aka open records request). The existence of TCEQ’s Barnett Shale videos was first widely publicized August 1 when local activists released a compilation of images entitled ”Un-clean, Un-natural, Un-healthy.” The video compilation juxtaposes conventional video images with infrared images in which volatile emissions are visible:

The composition of the vented gases is not identified in the videos of the UT Arlington site. The OGAP compilation video showing emissions at facilities across the region identifies the gases only as “hydrocarbon vapors” but also includes a long list of compounds that such emissions “could contain.”

Many of these are among substances whose presence downwind of the UT Arlington well site are periodically monitored by TCEQ. Analysis of an air sample that TCEQ personnel collected at the site in August 2008 confirmed the presence of numerous compounds, all apparently at concentrations below — and usually far below — the so-called Effects Screening Level, the level at which short-term effects would be expected to occur or at which odor would be deemed officially objectionable. The 2008 analysis does not identify the specific sources of these compounds, and it isn’t clear what impact the compressor and dehydrator vent stacks have on air quality in the vicinity of the facility.

Vice President for Communications Jerry Lewis asked me to convey two points about the legal status of emissions from the University site:

  • “NO UNPERMITTED EMISSIONS would show up in a video of these operations in August 2009 or at any point before or after that, including today. The … operation on campus is, and always has been, in full compliance with all local, state, and federal regulations related to air quality.”
  • “Neither [the operators] nor UT Arlington have been accused of ANY VIOLATIONS of air quality laws. Frequent and stringent air quality testing in the area — often in excess of what is customary for regulators — has been conducted to satisfy occasional complaints from a small handful of neighbors, yet there have been no violations found.”

Lewis also stated:

“… DFW Midstream’s facility includes a specific piece of equipment called a BTEX Eliminator, which is specifically designed to capture and destroy benzene and other similar material.”

A report on the gas industry’s impact on North Central Texas air quality was released in January by Southern Methodist University environmental engineer Al Armendariz, who served as a consultant on the OGAP video compilation project and has recently been appointed as administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6. Armendariz made a presentation at UT Arlington in November 2008.

Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP)

Texas OGAP campaign

OGAP public information request, Oct. 20

Complete set of TCEQ videos  obtained by OGAP

DFW Midstream

Additional TCEQ videos:

Infrared video of compressor vent stack, August 25

Infrared video of compressor vent stack, October 10

Infrared video of dehydrator vent stack, October 10

Armendariz report, January 2009