finding 22.4 : key-message-22-4

Fossil fuel and renewable energy production and distribution infrastructure is expanding within the Northern Great Plains (very high confidence). Climate change and extreme weather events put this infrastructure at risk, as well as the supply of energy it contributes to support individuals, communities, and the U.S. economy as a whole (likely, high confidence). The energy sector is also a significant source of greenhouse gases (very likely, very high confidence) and volatile organic compounds that contribute to climate change and ground-level ozone pollution (likely in some areas, very high confidence).

This finding is from chapter 22 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

The chapter lead (CL) and coordinating lead author (CLA) developed a list of potential contributing authors by soliciting suggestions from the past National Climate Assessment (NCA) author team, colleagues and collaborators throughout the region, and contributors to other regional reports. Our initial list of potential authors also included CL nominees submitted to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The CL and CLA discussed the Northern Great Plains, which was part of the larger Great Plains region for the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3), with each of these nominees and, as part of that discussion, solicited suggestions for other nominees. This long list of potential contributing authors was pared down by omitting individuals who could not contribute in a timely fashion, and the list was finalized after reconciliation against key themes within the region identified by past NCA authors, the CL and CLA, and contributing author nominees. The team of contributing authors was selected to represent the region geographically and thematically, but participants from some states who had agreed to contribute were eventually unable to do so. Others were unable to contribute from the start. The author team is mostly composed of authors who did not contribute to NCA3.

The CL and CLA, in consultation with past NCA authors and contributing author nominees, identified an initial list of focal areas of regional importance. The author team then solicited input from colleagues and regional experts (identified based on their deep ties to scientific and practitioner communities across the region) on their thoughts on focal areas. This list informed the agenda of a region-wide meeting held on February 22, 2017, with core locations in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Rapid City, South Dakota. The main purpose of this meeting was to seek feedback on the proposed list of focal areas. With this feedback, the author team was able to refine our focal areas to the five themes comprising the Key Messages of the Northern Great Plains regional chapter. Of these, recreation/tourism is a focus area that is new from NCA3.

Description of evidence base:

Fossil fuel and renewable energy production/distribution infrastructure is expanding within the Northern Great Plains, including oil and natural gas pipelines, natural gas compressor stations and storage tanks, natural gas processing plants, natural gas-fired power plants, high-voltage power lines and substations, wind farms, and even a new oil refinery and a new biorefinery in recent years (both began operations in 2015).

A number of oil and natural gas pipelines are being constructed or have been completed in recent years. In particular, the Dakota Access Pipeline began commercial service June 1, 2017, transporting crude oil from the Bakken/Three Forks production areas in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, to Pakota, Illinois. While pipelines are vulnerable to damage or disruption from heavy precipitation events and associated flooding and erosion,07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22 their increased use could eliminate hundreds of rail cars and trucks needed to transport crude every day. This reduces the exposure of these modes of transportation to rising temperatures, heat waves, and floods.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22 Other oil and gas production and distribution infrastructure is similarly vulnerable to heavy precipitation events and flooding.

The region relies on rail lines to transport coal, and these lines are vulnerable to rising temperatures, heat waves, and floods.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22 There is ample evidence of rail line vulnerability to extreme weather.96b39da1-771b-4889-8535-6b3ba61b7042

Damage to thermoelectric power plants and electric power transmission lines from extreme weather such as heat waves and wildfires has been documented, and the risk is expected to increase.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22,c46b1633-6831-43c1-8c77-b0a927ff7020

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Risk Profiles (1996–2014) highlight the risks to energy infrastructure in the United States from natural hazards. For example, in North Dakota, thunderstorms and lightning had the highest frequency of occurrence and property loss during this timeframe. DOE also has a series of comprehensive documents on U.S. energy sector vulnerabilities to climate change07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22,b66b1462-75b3-4a9b-ae8d-de2e190cf84b that identify important climate-related vulnerabilities for fuel transport, electricity generation, and electricity demand.

There is substantial evidence that the energy sector is a significant source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, in particular from power plants, oil and gas systems, and refineries.81430bfc-5d67-4109-982a-4cfd344f057c

New information and remaining uncertainties:

Cold waves are projected to be less intense in the future, reducing the risk of disruptions from cold to energy infrastructure.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22

There is not yet substantial agreement among sources as to how a changing climate will ultimately affect wind resources in the United States in general and in the Northern Great Plains in particular.b66b1462-75b3-4a9b-ae8d-de2e190cf84b

Projected increases in precipitation in the Northern Great Plains are likely to benefit hydropower production, but this will vary by location. For example, it is known that in the Columbia River Basin, decreasing summer streamflows will reduce downstream hydropower production, and increasing winter and early spring streamflows will increase production.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22 In the Missouri River Basin, projected seasonal declines in precipitation in the southern and western portion of the region are likely to reduce the water available to generate hydropower.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22

Biofuel feedstocks from crops and forage grown in the Northern Great Plains are vulnerable to climate change, but the net impacts on biofuel production are uncertain.07b7c06f-35f8-4205-a585-b45e3de00f22

It is well understood that ground-level ozone (O3) is created by chemical reactions between volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and would be exacerbated by climate change. What is less understood is the sensitivity of regional climate-induced O3 changes, and the science of modeling climate and atmospheric chemistry to understand future conditions.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

There is high confidence that climate change and extreme weather events will likely put energy supply and infrastructure of various types at risk. There is high confidence that the energy sector is a very likely a significant source of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. There is very high confidence that volatile organic compounds contribute to climate change and ground-level ozone pollution, and it is likely that this will worsen in the future in some areas.

This finding was derived from scenario rcp_8_5

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