Messed up

Kevin Lewis

November 01, 2017

Comparative Human Toxicity Impact of Electricity Produced from Shale Gas and Coal
Lu Chen, Shelie Miller & Brian Ellis
Environmental Science & Technology, forthcoming


The human toxicity impact (HTI) of electricity produced from shale gas is lower than the HTI of electricity produced from coal, with 90% confidence using a Monte Carlo Analysis. Two different impact assessment methods estimate the HTI of shale gas electricity to be 1–2 orders of magnitude less than the HTI of coal electricity (0.016–0.024 DALY/GWh versus 0.69–1.7 DALY/GWh). Further, an implausible shale gas scenario where all fracturing fluid and untreated produced water is discharged directly to surface water throughout the lifetime of a well also has a lower HTI than coal electricity. Particulate matter dominates the HTI for both systems, representing a much larger contribution to the overall toxicity burden than VOCs or any aquatic emission. Aquatic emissions can become larger contributors to the HTI when waste products are inadequately disposed or there are significant infrastructure or equipment failures. Large uncertainty and lack of exposure data prevent a full risk assessment; however, the results of this analysis provide a comparison of relative toxicity, which can be used to identify target areas for improvement and assess potential trade-offs with other environmental impacts.

Is Pollution Value-Maximizing? The DuPont Case
Roy Shapira & Luigi Zingales
University of Chicago Working Paper, September 2017


DuPont, one of the most respectable U.S. companies, caused environmental damage that ended up costing the company around a billion dollars. By using internal company documents disclosed in trials we rule out the possibilities that this bad outcome was due to ignorance, an unexpected realization, or a problem of bad governance. The documents rather suggest that the harmful pollution was a rational decision: under reasonable probabilities of detection, polluting was ex-ante optimal from the company’s perspective, albeit a very harmful decision from a societal perspective. We then examine why different mechanisms of control – legal liability, regulation, and reputation – all failed to deter socially harmful behavior. One common reason for the failures of deterrence mechanisms is that the company controls most of the information and its release. We then sketch potential ways to mitigate this problem.

Technology and the Effectiveness of Regulatory Programs Over Time: Vehicle Emissions and Smog Checks with a Changing Fleet
Nicholas Sanders & Ryan Sandler
NBER Working Paper, October 2017


Personal automobile emissions are a major source of urban air pollution. Many U.S. states control emissions through mandated vehicle inspections and repairs. But there is little empirical evidence directly linking mandated inspections, maintenance, and local air pollution levels. To test for a link, we estimate the contemporaneous effect of inspections on local air quality. We use day-to-day, within-county variation in the number of vehicles repaired and recertified after failing an initial emissions inspection, with individual-level data from 1998–2012 from California’s inspection program. Additional re-inspections of pre-1985 model year vehicles reduce local carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter levels, while re-inspections of newer vehicles with more modern engine technology have no economically significant effect on air pollution. This suggests emissions inspections have become less effective at reducing local air pollution as more high-polluting vehicles from the 1970s and 1980s leave the road, and provides an example of how the social efficiency of programs can change under improving technologies. We also estimate the importance of station quality, using a metric devised for California’s new STAR certification program. We show re-inspections of older vehicles conducted by low quality inspection stations do not change air pollution, while inspections at high quality stations have a moderate effect on pollution concentrations, which suggests the potential for ineffective monitoring at low quality inspection stations. We find little effect on ambient ozone levels, regardless of station quality or vehicle age.

Additional risk of diabetes exceeds the increased risk of cancer caused by radiation exposure after the Fukushima disaster
Michio Murakami et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2017


The 2011 Fukushima disaster led to increases in multiple risks (e.g., lifestyle diseases and radiation exposure) and fear among the public. Here, we assessed the additional risks of cancer caused by radiation and diabetes related to the disaster and the cost-effectiveness of countermeasures against these conditions. Our study included residents of the cities of Minamisoma and Soma (10–40 km and 35–50 km north of the Fukushima Daiichi (N° 1) Nuclear Power Station, respectively). We used the loss of life expectancy (LLE) as an indicator to compare risks between radiation exposure and diabetes. We also estimated the cost-effectiveness of radiation-related countermeasures, including restricted food distribution, decontamination, and whole-body counter tests and interventions. Metformin therapy was selected as a representative management for diabetes. The diabetes-related LLEs among residents were 4.1 (95% confidence interval: 1.4–6.8) ×10−2 years for the whole population and 8.0 (2.7–13.2) ×10−2 years for 40s to 70s in a scenario that considered the additional incidence of diabetes during the first 10 years. The cancer-related LLEs caused by lifetime exposure to radiation were 0.69 (2.5–97.5 percentile: 0.61–0.79) ×10−2 years for the whole population and 0.24 (0.20–0.29) ×10−2 years for 40s to 70s. The diabetes-related LLEs among residents in the above-mentioned scenario were 5.9-fold and 33-fold higher than those attributed to average radiation among the whole population and among the 40s to 70s age groups, respectively. The costs per life-years saved of the radiation countermeasures (i.e., restricted food distribution, decontamination, and whole-body counter tests and interventions) were >1 to >4 orders of magnitude higher than those of general heath checkups and conventional management for diabetes. Our findings indicate that countermeasures to mitigate diabetes are warranted. Policy-makers’ and individuals’ understanding of multiple risks after any disaster will be essential to saving the lives of victims.

Can the US shale revolution be duplicated in continental Europe? An economic analysis of European shale gas resources
Aurélien Saussay
Energy Economics, forthcoming


Over the past decade, the rapid increase in shale gas and shale oil production in the United States has profoundly changed energy markets in North America, and has led to a significant decrease in American natural gas prices. The possible existence of large shale deposits in continental Europe, mainly in France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, has fostered speculation on whether the U.S. shale revolution could be duplicated in Europe. However, a number of uncertainties, notably geological, technological, regulatory, and relating to public acceptance make this possibility unclear. We present a techno-economic model of shale gas production amenable to direct estimation on historical production data to analyze the main determinants of the profitability of shale wells and plays. We contribute an in-depth analysis of an extensive production dataset covering 40,000 wells and accounting for nearly 90% of shale gas production in the six main plays of the continental United States from 2004 to 2014. We combine this analysis with a discussion of the main differences between the American and European contexts to calibrate our model and conduct Monte-Carlo simulations. This enables us to estimate the distribution of breakeven prices for shale gas extraction in continental Europe. We find a median gross breakeven price before taxes and royalties of $10.1 per MMBtu. This would make extraction unprofitable in Europe in the current natural gas price environment, with < 47% of the well distribution reaching breakeven at the mean 2011–2016 price. Sensitivity analysis reveals that the breakeven price is most sensitive to initial production rate, drilling and completion costs, and decline rates. We also find that the economic outlook would be slightly better if the productivity of European shale gas plays was comparable to that of U.S. plays of similar depth, but not significantly so. We conclude that under assumptions calibrated on existing shale gas production data, it is unlikely that the U.S. shale revolution can be duplicated in continental Europe.

The Fall of Coal: Joint Impacts of Fuel Prices and Renewables on Generation and Emissions
Harrison Fell & Daniel Kaffine
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, forthcoming


Since 2007, US coal-fired electricity generation has declined by a stunning 25 percent. Detailed daily unit-level data is used to examine the joint impact of natural gas prices and wind generation on coal-fired generation and emissions, with a focus on the interaction between gas prices and wind. This interaction is found to be significant. Marginal responses of coal-fired generation to natural gas prices (wind) in 2013 were larger, sometimes much larger, than the counterfactual with 2008 wind generation (gas prices). Additionally, these factors jointly account for the vast majority of the observed decline in generation and emissions.

Regulation, Innovation, and Firm Selection: The Porter Hypothesis under Monopolistic Competition
Larry Qiu, Mohan Zhou & Xu Wei
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, forthcoming


The Porter Hypothesis (PH) posits that well-designed environmental regulations can stimulate innovation, which may lead to efficiency gains or even profit increase in regulated firms. In this study, we revisit the PH under monopolistic competition by incorporating two important features in our model and analysis, namely, firm heterogeneity and general equilibrium. We show that the PH holds for high-capability firms, but not for low-capability firms. Heterogeneous responses exist in innovation investment, but the average industry productivity increases. We obtain an interesting finding that adds a new feature to the PH. This finding indicates that strict environmental regulations can encourage firm entry and exit, thereby improving the composition of firms in the regulated industry.

Community Characteristics and Changes in Toxic Chemical Releases: Does Information Disclosure Affect Environmental Injustice?
Arturs Kalnins & Glen Dowell
Journal of Business Ethics, October 2017, Pages 277–292


It is well known that environmental burdens are more pronounced in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, a phenomenon known as environmental injustice. Yet, there have been few studies that have addressed whether the degree of environmental injustice has changed over time. We analyze toxic releases in the United States over the first 26 years of the toxics release inventory and examine whether the decreases in toxic releases differ according to characteristics of the communities in which the emitters reside. We find that decreases over these years are universal but far more substantial in high-income areas. Our results speak to both the nascent literature on information disclosure and that on environmental justice.

Food vs. Fuel? Impacts of Petroleum Shipments on Agricultural Prices
James Bushnell, Jonathan Hughes & Aaron Smith
NBER Working Paper, October 2017


Grain shippers and political figures in North Dakota and nearby states have voiced concern that the dramatic increases in shipments of crude oil by rail have caused service delays and higher costs. We investigate the potential impact of crude shipments on grain markets accounting for harvest effects and other potential sources of rail congestion. Increased crude oil shipments are associated with substantially larger spreads between wheat prices at regional elevators and in Minneapolis, the market hub. The effect on corn and soybean spreads are an order of magnitude smaller. Increased oil traffic is associated with small increases in rail rates but large increases in rail car auction prices. We document increases in wheat carry (storage) costs and decreases in shipment quantities. Surprisingly, little of the spread increase is due to lower prices paid to farmers, suggesting consumers rather than producers paid the cost of increased rail congestion.

Dynamic Norms Promote Sustainable Behavior, Even if It Is Counternormative
Gregg Sparkman & Gregory Walton
Psychological Science, forthcoming


It is well known that people conform to normative information about other people’s current attitudes and behaviors. Do they also conform to dynamic norms — information about how other people’s behavior is changing over time? We investigated this question in three online and two field experiments. Experiments 1 through 4 examined high levels of meat consumption, a normative and salient behavior that is decreasing in the United States. Dynamic norms motivated change despite prevailing static norms, increasing interest in eating less meat (Experiments 1–3) and doubling meatless orders at a café (Experiment 4). Mediators included the anticipation of less meat eating in the future (preconformity) and the inference that reducing meat consumption mattered to other people (Experiments 2 and 3). In Experiment 5, we took advantage of a natural comparison to provide evidence that dynamic norms can also strengthen social-norm interventions when the static norm is positive; a positive dynamic norm resulted in reduced laundry loads and water use over 3 weeks during a drought.

Acute Illness Among Surfers After Exposure to Seawater in Dry- and Wet-Weather Conditions
Benjamin Arnold et al.
American Journal of Epidemiology, 1 October 2017, Pages 866–875


Rainstorms increase levels of fecal indicator bacteria in urban coastal waters, but it is unknown whether exposure to seawater after rainstorms increases rates of acute illness. Our objective was to provide the first estimates of rates of acute illness after seawater exposure during both dry- and wet-weather periods and to determine the relationship between levels of indicator bacteria and illness among surfers, a population with a high potential for exposure after rain. We enrolled 654 surfers in San Diego, California, and followed them longitudinally during the 2013–2014 and 2014–2015 winters (33,377 days of observation, 10,081 surf sessions). We measured daily surf activities and illness symptoms (gastrointestinal illness, sinus infections, ear infections, infected wounds). Compared with no exposure, exposure to seawater during dry weather increased incidence rates of all outcomes (e.g., for earache or infection, adjusted incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 1.86, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.27, 2.71; for infected wounds, IRR = 3.04, 95% CI: 1.54, 5.98); exposure during wet weather further increased rates (e.g., for earache or infection, IRR = 3.28, 95% CI: 1.95, 5.51; for infected wounds, IRR = 4.96, 95% CI: 2.18, 11.29). Fecal indicator bacteria measured in seawater (Enterococcus species, fecal coliforms, total coliforms) were strongly associated with incident illness only during wet weather. Urban coastal seawater exposure increases the incidence rates of many acute illnesses among surfers, with higher incidence rates after rainstorms.


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