Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 20, 2014

Preview: Idaho Energy Summit

The Idaho Statesman reports that “the inaugural Intermountain Energy Summit is headlined by U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who will speak alongside federal politicians, energy experts and private industry leaders, who will lead panel discussions. The focus: the future of energy policy and production in North America.”

“The conference Tuesday and Wednesday will be different than attendees may be used to, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said.”

“‘It’s not going to be workshops where you learn something and go home,’ Casper said. ‘It’s more – what did you bring? What are your thoughts given the data that was just presented?’”

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More Research Identified for Clean Vehicle Technology

Fuel Fix reports that “two Texas research groups landed government grants to study new technologies that improve fuel efficiency and reduce costs as part of the Obama administration’s promotion of clean vehicles.”

“The U.S. Department of Energy announced $55 million for 31 new projects, most of which are aimed at meeting the goals of a government challenge issued two years ago, for the U.S. auto industry to produce plug-in electric vehicles by 2022 that are as affordable and convenient as gasoline-powered cars.”

“Some money also went to research aimed at improving power trains, fuel, tires and auxiliary systems.”

China Seeks U.S. Help in Shale Exploration

The Houston Chronicle reports that “China is looking to the West – and especially to Texas – as it seeks to unlock its vast shale formations in hopes of launching an American-style energy revolution.”

“Facing stubborn rock and high costs, Chinese oil companies are giving U.S. firms a bigger stake in exchange for the tools and technology of hydraulic fracturing, which helped turn American production around and gave the nation new status as an energy power.”

Company Tries to Turn Algae into Energy

The New York Times reports that “although algae grow prodigiously and contain potentially useful molecules — especially lipids, which can be turned into high-energy fuel and other products — extracting those molecules has proved complicated and expensive. So far, virtually the only marketable products based on algae have been high-end skin creams.”

“But a Nevada company, Algae Systems, has a pilot plant in Alabama that, it says, can turn a profit making diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.”

Analysis: ‘Sons of Wichita’ and U.S. Oil Refineries

The Financial Times writes: “One of many reasons for putting Daniel Schulman’s Sons of Wichita on your summer reading list is that it is a useful reminder that the least glamorous parts of the energy business can sometimes be the most lucrative.”

“The biography of the billionaire Koch brothers tells how Fred Koch, the patriarch who laid the foundations for the family’s fortune, started a highly successful company selling thermal cracking technology, a standard feature of modern oil refineries. Today Charles and David Koch, two of Fred’s sons, control a vast and diversified business empire, but the roots of it all are in refineries.”

The piece concludes: “For Fred Koch, defending his competitive advantage meant two decades fighting through the courts to protect his rights to his thermal cracking technology.”

“With international pressure now added to the calls from oil-extraction companies for them to be allowed to export crude, US refiners today are facing a similarly intense battle to protect their interests.”


Alaska Voters to Decide on Oil Production Tax

The Associated Press reports that “amid a fog of conflicting claims, Alaskans head to the polls Tuesday to decide if the state’s old system for taxing oil companies, passed in 2007 after some lawmakers were suspected of bribery, is better than the new system, a tax cut passed last year to try to attract investment from petroleum companies.”

“Ballot Measure No. 1 asks voters if they want to reject the 2013 law that supporters have dubbed the “More Alaska Production Act.” Advocated by Gov. Sean Parnell, it replaced the production tax known as “Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share,” or ACES, that was championed by former Gov. Sarah Palin.”

“Critics call ACES an investment killer. It gave tax credits for investment but included a progressive surcharge that companies said ate too deeply into profits, discouraging new investment.”

Energy Secretary Calls Industry Criticism of Natural Gas Export Overhaul ‘B.S.’

Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz in a one-on-one interview Friday with CQ Roll Call signaled that any further changes to how his agency processes natural gas export applications will have to come from Congress, as the Energy Department tries to end a controversy over how the United States ships gas to nations that are not trading partners.

In addition, Moniz dismissed industry complaints that DOE has moved too slowly on export applications as “B.S.,” noting the department can’t take final action until a separate Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review is completed. Some U.S. energy companies eager to expand new overseas markets say the Obama administration is dragging its feet.

Moniz said that lawmakers will have to be the ones to make any more decisions about gas exports now that his agency has laid out its final rules on an overhaul. “Not from the administration, I don’t expect any changes to the process,” Moniz told CQ Roll Call. “Let’s see if Congress acts.”

NH Senate Race: Candidates Weigh in on Climate Change, Energy

The Concord (NH) Monitor reports that “the three Republican candidates seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, outlined divergent views on energy policy and climate change in a series of recent interviews with the Monitor.”

“Jim Rubens said he believes global warming is happening largely as a result of human activity. ‘I understand there’s a problem,’ he said in the interview.”

“Scott Brown, who didn’t identify the cause of climate change – whether man made or natural, said ‘obviously the climate is changing all the time. . . . The bottom line is we have to find a way to make sure we protect our environment.’”

“Bob Smith said he doesn’t support the concept that man is causing global warming. ‘The issue of warming is one thing, that it is caused by fossil fuels is another,’ he said. ‘I don’t think the evidence supports it.’”

Mexico Oil Development Opened to Foreigners

The New York Times reports that “Mexican officials on Wednesday outlined the changing landscape of the country’s oil and gas industry as the country looks to foreign players to help develop its energy future.”

“Under the overhaul, most of the country’s production will remain with the state-owned oil monopoly Pemex. But private investors will have a chance to bid on a significant percentage of the prospective reserves, whose development will require deep expertise and substantial financing.”

“The announcement sets in motion the long-awaited opening of Mexico’s oil business, where private investment has been banned since foreign companies were seized and the industry was nationalized in 1938. In an effort to bolster production, President Enrique Peña Nieto won agreement from the Mexican Congress in December to change the constitution to permit private investment in the industry.”

Refiners Make Changes as Oil Imports Slow

Fuel Fix reports that “in a sign of the nation’s decreasing dependence on foreign crude oil, refiners on the Gulf Coast are getting more of their raw material by pipeline from U.S. fields and less by tanker from overseas.”

“It’s forcing refiners to retool some facilities, since most on the Gulf Coast are designed to refine imported crude that typically is heavier and higher in sulfur content than the light, sweet product of the booming U.S. fields in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere.”

“But the refiners also often get their raw product cheaper. A decades-old ban on most crude exports keeps U.S. oil off international markets, so domestic supplies rise and prices stay relatively low.”

IEA: Sanctions Not Hurting Russian Oil

The Financial Times reports that “US and EU sanctions on Russia’s oil sector are unlikely to have a major effect on production, the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday, chiming with comments from some market watchers that the restrictions are toothless.”

“’Neither set of sanctions will have any tangible near term impact on supplies. Even for the medium term, their impact appears questionable,’ the energy watchdog for wealthy nations said in its widely-followed monthly oil market report.”

“’EU sanctions are highly selective, exclude agreed contracts, and can only be extended past one year by consensus. Their ‘perimeter’ seems loosely defined, potentially leaving room for finding ways around the most constraining measures,’ it added.”

Drilling Firm Sues Town Over Oil, Gas Waste Dumping Ban

The Greenfield (IN) Daily Reporter reports that “a gas and oil drilling company is suing a western Pennsylvania township, claiming that an ordinance passed to ban the disposal of drilling byproducts like fracking fluids and briny water is illegal and trumped by state and federal law.”

“Officials in Grant Township, Indiana County, have yet to see the lawsuit filed late Friday by the Pennsylvania General Energy Company, of Warren.”

New Location for Fracking: Pittsburgh International Airport

The New York Times reports that “where 600 flights used to take off and land every day here at Pittsburgh International Airport, there are now about 300. Partway down Terminal B, the moving sidewalk that used to lead to a dozen gates now stops abruptly at a plain gray wall.”

“Pittsburgh’s airport is struggling financially and mired in debt, with sharply lower traffic ever since US Airways began phasing it out as a bustling hub in 2004. Long gone are the days when British Airways flew 747s to London, and TWA flew to Frankfurt.”

“For salvation, airport officials are looking down — about 6,000 feet. The quiet runways, it turns out, are sitting on enough natural gas to run the whole state of Pennsylvania for a year and a half, and this month, Consol Energy will drill its first well here to tap the gas, which county officials say will bring them nearly half a billion dollars over the next 20 years.”

Alaska’s Status Reduced as Other States Gain in Oil Production

The Wall St. Journal reports that “the energy boom sweeping North America is producing an unexpected loser: Alaska.”

“The state, which staked most of its economy on energy in the 1970s after oil was found on the North Slope, is now competing with, and often losing out to, places with hotter oil fields—especially North Dakota. More people left Alaska than settled in the state between 2012 and 2013, while North Dakota added residents, according to state and federal census data.”

“North Dakota surpassed Alaska two years ago as the nation’s second-largest oil producer, behind Texas. Because its oil output continues to dwindle, Alaska has now dropped to fourth place, after California, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. State officials are now grappling with ways to regain its pride of place.”

Is a Global Climate Change Deal Even Possible?

“Don’t expect too much from the global climate-change accord that’s expected to emerge from high-stakes international talks in Paris next year,” National Journal reports.

“A new MIT study concludes that even if negotiators reach a deal at the United Nations conference, it probably won’t be enough to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That’s the level many scientists say would help stave off some of the most dangerous and disruptive effects of climate change.”

Here’s the study’s bottom line: “Based on our expectations for the architecture of a COP-21 agreement, and our predictions about the national contributions likely to come forth under it, our analysis concludes that these international efforts will indeed bend the curve of global emissions. However, our results also show that these efforts will not put the globe on a path consistent with commonly stated long-term climate goals,”

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