Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 1, 2015

What is Keystone’s Carbon Footprint?

National Journal: “Over the past six years, the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline has become a powerful symbol in the midst of a national debate over energy security and climate change. Opponents warn that construction would speed Canadian oil-sands development, which could spell ‘game over’ for the planet.”

“But despite its iconic status, Keystone would generate far fewer emissions than the nation’s fleet of power plants … Keystone XL would produce roughly an additional 18.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually compared to less-carbon-heavy conventional oil.”

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Keystone Confrontation With White House Looms After Senate Passage

A veto showdown moved closer on Thursday after the Senate passed legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and yank the decision out of President Barack Obama’s hands, Roll Call reports.

The bill (S 1) passed 62-36. The Senate spent nearly three weeks debating Keystone, made a priority by Senate Republicans after they took control of the chamber.

The legislation still has more stops in its journey to Obama’s desk. Since the Senate approved a handful of amendments to the measure, the House will either have to take up that chamber’s version and pass it or move to go to conference. Lawmakers would have to move quickly for a conference to be assembled prior to a Feb. 16 recess week.

Senate Republicans have indicated they expect a conference, though they say no decisions have been made.

Drones to Change Search Process for Gas Field Challenges?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that “a helicopter equipped with magnetic sensors flew over three plots of Pennsylvania state lands hunting for signs of forgotten oil and gas wells last summer at a cost of about $2,000 an hour.”

“Meanwhile, a promising tool that had potential to be part of the research mission was parked in Pittsburgh: an unmanned six-foot-long helicopter that can fly for an hour and a half on $3 worth of gas.”

“The drone, owned by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, is grounded while its owners wait for someone clever to develop a magnetic sensor just as sensitive as the full-sized helicopter’s, but still small, light and energy-efficient enough to fit on the remote-controlled machine without hindering its flight.”

“When the technology catches up, drones equipped with advanced sensors might change the costly and onerous project of searching by air for abandoned gas field hazards into a routine part of business.”

Crude Exports: Refining CEOs Reach Out to Congress

Fuel Fix reports that “four refining CEOs are pleading for their side to be heard in the coming congressional debate over crude exports.”

“’The implications of lifting restrictions on exporting domestic crude are less well known to lawmakers, much less the public,’ said the executives from Alon USA, Monroe Energy, PBF Energy and Philadelphia Energy Solutions.”

“The foursome, all members of the group Consumers and Refiners United for Domestic Energy, highlighted their concerns in a letter Tuesday to the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.”

Oil and Gas: More Deals, Less Drilling in 2015?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that “for an oil and gas company belonging to a very narrow stripe of the industry that’s well capitalized, long-term oriented and opportunistic, this might be a good time to make a deal.”

“Some industry experts predict 2015 may turn out to be a year of less drilling and more dealing, as low oil and natural gas prices force some companies out of the market and those remaining look to pick up the crumbs.”

“’There will be a lot of companies looking to get a deal for pennies on the dollar,’ said Carl Larry, director of business development, oil and gas, at Frost & Sullivan in Houston, Texas.”

“Large firms that have the means and “wherewithal” to withstand this wave of low prices are best poised to take advantage of such opportunities.”

Oil Price Drop Threatens Obama Clean Energy Plans

“The benefits of cheap oil may come at a steep price for President Barack Obama’s climate-change initiatives,” Bloomberg reports.

“Some of Obama’s most cherished achievements — cars on the road that burn less gasoline, reductions in greenhouse gases and a plan to cut emissions from power plants — are at risk as plummeting energy prices thwart policies meant to force the nation to think greener.”

“Last year’s 33 percent drop in gasoline prices already has automakers laying the groundwork to challenge more stringent fuel economy targets for new cars. The oil industry says a decline in its oil revenue means it can’t afford new climate regulations. Even solar-equipment makers are seeing share prices fall on fears inexpensive natural gas will erode demand.”

Obama to Allow Drilling in Atlantic

The New York Times reports that “the Obama administration on Tuesday will announce a proposal to open up coastal waters from Virginia to Georgia for oil and gas drilling, according to a person briefed on the plan.”

“At the same time, in Alaska, the administration will ban drilling in some portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, according to the personal familiar with the plans, who could not speak publicly about them until the announcement.”

“Opening the Eastern Seaboard to oil companies is a prize the industry has sought for decades and is a blow to environmental groups. They argue that the move would put the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia at risk for an environmental disaster like the BP spill that struck the Gulf Coast in 2010, when millions of barrels of oil washed ashore after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.”

Senate Democrats Block Attempt to End Debate on Keystone XL

Fuel Fix reports that “the Senate on Monday blocked Republican efforts to wind down debate of legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“The procedural vote means that the Republicans are looking at days — if not weeks — of additional debate on the bill and the dozens of amendments that have been proposed to it, including proposals involving climate change, crude exports, Arctic drilling and whether EPA employees can carry firearms.”

“The 53-39 Senate vote fell shy of the 60 ‘aye’ votes needed to limit debate on the measure and cut off a potential filibuster. Travel delays prevented some supportive senators from reaching the chamber in time for the vote, contributing to the Republicans’ loss.”

Oil Reaches Lowest Price in Six Years

Bloomberg reports that “crude oil fell Monday to the lowest in almost six years after OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla El-Badri said that there was about 1.5 million barrels a day of excess supply.”

“Oil slipped 1 percent in New York, reversing an intraday gain of 1.8 percent that followed comments by El-Badri that OPEC is open to talks with outside producers and insufficient investment could push crude prices to $200. A blizzard that may dump 2 feet of snow from New York to Boston bolstered diesel, often traded as a proxy for heating oil.”

“’El-Badri acknowledged that there’s about a 1.5 million- barrels-a-day surplus,’ Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said by phone. ‘It’s up to the market to decide whether that’s the critical factor or the possibility of OPEC-non-OPEC cooperation or the speculation that there could be $200 oil at some future date. It looks like the market decided.’”

The U.S. Fracking Explosion

Inside Climate News has compiled a map of the nation’s fracking activity. There are “22 states, from California to Texas, Michigan to West Virginia, currently employing this high-intensity form of energy extraction, and five others may soon follow.”

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“Fracking is used differently in each state, depending on the available fossil fuels. Texas has thousands of wells that tap into deeply buried shale deposits. By contrast, in Indiana, fracking occurs for a small percentage of wells.”

Inhofe Insists Man Can’t Change the Climate

Bloomberg: “Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the most outspoken global warming skeptic in Congress, voted along with 97 of his colleagues on Wednesday on a resolution stating that ‘climate change is real and not a hoax.’”

“Inhofe has not, however, changed his view that the rise in global temperatures has anything to do with human activity.”

“‘Climate is changing, and climate has always changed, and always will, there’s archeological evidence of that, there’s biblical evidence of that, there’s historic evidence of that, it will always change,’ Inhofe said on the Senate floor. ‘The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.’”

The roster of how the votes played out is listed on Wired.

Senate Finally Agrees Climate Change is Happening

The Guardian: “It is nearly 27 years now since a Nasa scientist testified before the US Senate that the agency was 99% certain that rising global temperatures were caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

“And the Senate still has not got it – based on the results of three symbolic climate change votes on Wednesday night.”

“The Senate voted virtually unanimously that climate change is occurring and not, as some Republicans have said, a hoax – but it defeated two measures attributing its causes to human activity.”

“But the Senate voted down two measures that attributed climate change to human activity – and that is far more important. Unless Senators are prepared to acknowledge the causes of climate change, it is likely they will remain unable and unwilling to do anything about it.”

Senate Will Vote on Whether Climate Change is a Hoax

Science Insider: “The U.S. Senate’s simmering debate over climate science has come to a full boil today, with lawmakers trading feisty remarks as they prepare to vote on at least two measures offered by Democrats that affirm that climate change is real—with one also noting that global warming is not ‘a hoax.”

“In an effort to highlight their differences with some Republicans on climate policy, several Democrats have filed largely symbolic amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They are designed to put senators on the record on whether climate change is real and human-caused. The backers are now pushing for votes on those measures as soon as today.”

“The Democratic amendments vary in detail and whether they call for specific actions on climate policy. But they share one thing in common: that lawmakers should at least accept climate science, regardless of party affiliation.”

Time for a New Energy Policy

The Economist: “The plunging price of oil, coupled with advances in clean energy and conservation, offers politicians around the world the chance to rationalise energy policy.”

“Falling prices provide an opportunity to rethink this nonsense … rich countries still underwrite the production of oil and gas. Why should American taxpayers pay for Exxon to find hydrocarbons? All these subsidies should be binned.”

“An obvious starting point is to target petrol. America’s federal government levies a tax of just 18 cents a gallon (five cents a litre)—a figure that it has not dared change since 1993. Even better would be a tax on carbon. Burning fossil fuels harms the health of both the planet and its inhabitants. Taxing carbon would nudge energy firms and consumers towards using cleaner fuels. As fuel prices fall, a carbon tax is becoming less politically daunting.”

“Governments have a legitimate role in making sure that energy is abundant, clean and secure. But they need to learn the difference between picking goals and deciding how to reach them. Broad incentives are fine; second-guessing scientists and investors is not. A carbon tax, in other words, is a much better way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases than subsidies for windmills and nuclear plants.”

Why Cracking Down on Methane is a Big Deal

Slate: “Wednesday morning the White House announced a new plan to crack down on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

“Methane makes up a much smaller portion of America’s greenhouse gas footprint than carbon dioxide … so the proposal might seem like small potatoes. But it’s actually a pretty huge deal, for a few reasons.”

“Methane, the principal emission of natural gas consumption, is 20 times more powerful than CO2 over a 100-year timespan.”

“If we replace our coal with natural gas but let methane go unchecked, we won’t be much closer to meaningfully mitigating climate change,’ said Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund. ‘Leak rates as low as 1 to 3 percent undo much of the benefit of going from coal to gas.’”

“Stringent methane rules could alleviate some of the climate-related concerns about the fracking boom and could help refocus the debate around local pollution and land rights issues. These rules are also an opportunity, Brownstein said, for the gas industry to show good faith. ‘If the industry resists basic regulation for a relatively simple issue to solve, what is the public to think about the industry’s willingness to solve more complex issues?’”

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