Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 18, 2014

WY Considers Pushing Oil, Gas Ops Further from Homes, Schools

The Wyoming Star Tribune reports that “oil and gas operations might be pushed further away from homes, schools and other residential buildings under a rule change being considered by Wyoming regulators.”

“But is unclear when and how that rule would be implemented.”

“Mark Watson, the state’s interim Oil and Gas supervisor, said Tuesday in a public meeting in Casper that his agency will prioritize an examination of the minimum distance required between energy development and residences. The current distance is 350 feet.”

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Report: Oil and Gas Production Falls on Federal Land

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that “oil and gas production on federal land and water is down six percent from 2009 to 2013, but a new report by the Congressional Research Service says expanded production options favored by Republicans and oil-state Democrats might not reverse that trend.”

“‘There is, however, continued interest among some in Congress to open more federal lands for oil and gas development (e.g., the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and areas offshore) and increase the speed of the permitting process,’ the report by the non-partisan research service says. ‘But having more lands accessible may not translate into higher levels of production on federal lands, as industry seeks out the most promising prospects and higher returns on more accessible non-federal lands.’”

“One reason hydraulic fracking, which is growing, primarily occurs on private land.”

“The report was released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Pew Publishes Annual Clean Energy Report

ICYMI: The Pew Charitable Trusts published its annual report “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2013. It states:”

“For the past five years, Pew has tracked investment and finance trends in the world’s leading economies. Over that period, the clean energy industry has been buffeted by a global recession, broad changes in energy markets, and uncertainty surrounding international policies on clean energy and climate change. Despite these challenges, the clean energy sector is now an annual $250 billion component of the world economy.”

“Although global clean energy investment in renewable sources, biofuels, smart energy, and energy storage fell 11 percent in 2013, to $254 billion, a number of developments indicate a promising future for clean energy. First, the prices of leading technologies such as wind and solar have dropped steadily for decades; they are increasingly competitive with century-old and more financially volatile conventional power sources. Second, clean energy manufacturers are moving forward and have effectively weathered withering competitive pressures, consolidations, and policy changes. Investor confidence about the long-term future of renewable energy was reinforced in clean energy stock indexes in 2013, which rose sharply over the year. Third, markets in fast-growing, developing countries are prospering; these economies see distributed generation as an opportunity to avoid investments in costly transmission systems, comparable to the deployment of cellphones instead of costly landline infrastructure. Even in the contracting markets of Europe and the Americas, which have affected the overall industry, policymakers are recalibrating rather than abandoning clean energy policies.”

How U.S. Military Can Adopt Clean Energy For National Security

Forbes reports that “The military’s success in preparing for and mitigating climate change impacts will depend in large part on where it gets energy and how smartly it uses energy, especially amid budget constraints. Consider this: the Defense Department is the single largest energy consumer in the United States, despite accounting for less than one percent of total domestic use.”

“Each of the branches – Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Marine Corps – is making significant progress to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, but more must be done to meet energy goals and prepare for the global consequences of climate change. To do this, the Defense Department should:”

  • “Play a larger role in creating a smarter, more resilient U.S. electricity grid.”
  • “Increase energy efficiency.”
  • “Develop new partnerships.”
  • “Identify new ways to finance energy improvements.”

Is Fracking Really a Job Creator?

Using Pennsylvania as an example, Clare Foran questions whether fracking truly creates jobs:

“That’s the linchpin of the oil and gas industry argument for permitting the controversial drilling practice. And it’s become the industry’s trump card as the debate rages—among policymakers and scientists—over whether fracking is safe for the people and environment around it.”

“The energy boom has injected fracking—and energy jobs in general—into the [Pennsylvania] gubernatorial race, but its role in the political discussion dwarfs the sector’s actual impact on the state economy: In 2012, jobs in core industries tied to natural-gas production made up less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s total 5.5 million jobs.”

“‘It’s a drop in the bucket,’ said Tim Kelsey, a professor at the Pennsylvania State University and cofounder of the Center for Economic and Community Development. ‘Relative to statewide employment this is a very small number of jobs.’”

 Is Fracking Really a Job Creator?

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Study Finds Large Emissions from Shale Gas Wells

“Researchers found higher-than-expected emissions of a potent greenhouse gas emanating from Pennsylvania wells, according to a study published Monday that adds to concerns about the environmental footprint of natural gas,” according to Fuel Fix.

“The study, conducted by Purdue and Cornell universities and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to scrutinize methane emissions associated with natural gas development, with implications from New York to Texas.”

“Researchers used a specially equipped airplane to collect samples above the Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania. They traced large methane emissions to seven wells that were were being drilled, a phase of operations not normally associated with such high levels. That suggests the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, released in an annual inventory, are not capturing all the released methane.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Lax EPA Regs Allow Biomass to Pollute More Than Coal

InsideClimate News: “A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.”

“The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.”

“The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants.”

The loopholes include: “EPA giving biomass plants a ‘free pass’ on limiting CO2 emissions; states not requiring operators to control short-term air emissions spikes at smaller facilities; and states not mandating extra monitoring at plants that burn wood waste, which emit more toxic pollutants.”

Mary Booth, the study’s author says that “biomass should be regulated the same way as coal: ‘We’re talking about the same pollution, the same health effects, but biomass plants get to emit two and a half times as much.’”

Role, Size of Energy Taxes Differs Across Western U.S.

The Denver Post reports that “the Colorado shale oil boom is adding billions of dollars to oil company balance sheets and millions to the coffers in counties where drilling takes place — but it hasn’t amounted to much for the rest of the state.”

“While thousands of wells are being drilled in the Niobrara shale formation — mainly in Weld County — none is likely to pay state tax after three years, according to one economic analysis.”

“Those tax payments are being reduced by tax credits equal to $208 million a year, according to a Colorado Legislative Council staff analysis.”

The piece continues: “The size and role of energy taxes varies across the West, with Colorado having one of the lowest rates. Some states have raised more and turned it into a statewide benefit.”

“Wyoming collects about $1 billion a year and uses the money to fund highway and water projects and to provide grants to all cities and towns based on population.”

“A portion goes to a trust fund, now valued at $6.2 billion, whose interest, dividends and capital gains go to the Wyoming general fund.”

“Montana is using oil and gas taxes for statewide property tax relief.”

TX: ‘Railroads Filling Void as Oil Pipeline Falls Short’

The Texas Tribune reports that “in December, a new terminal in the Port of Beaumont welcomed its first customer: a train carrying 43,000 barrels of crude oil from Colorado. Workers at the terminal, the Jefferson Transload Railport, transferred the crude to a barge, which traveled down the Neches River to a nearby refinery.”

“As shale fields scattered across the Midwest and West Texas produce millions of barrels of crude oil, energy companies are finding the national pipeline network insufficient to transport their output. Railroads are increasingly picking up the slack, and Jefferson Energy Companies, based in The Woodlands, is one of several companies investing millions of dollars to help transport crude by rail, a business that was nearly nonexistent just five years ago.”

“’We never thought we competed with pipeline until four years ago when we moved our first unit train of crude by rail,’ Dean Wise, a vice president for BNSF Railway, based in Fort Worth, said at a rail conference in January. ‘Now BNSF is moving eight trains a day.’”

“In Texas, the crude-by-rail boom has led to construction of facilities to help deliver the product to Gulf Coast refineries. It has also drawn concerns about the safety of moving such volatile materials throughout the state, in light of a spate of recent accidents.”

Transportation Pollution Biggest Threat to Global Climate

Bloomberg: “Emissions from transportation may rise at the fastest rate of all major sources through 2050, the United Nations will say in a report due April 13. Heat-trapping gases from vehicles may surge 71 percent from 2010 levels, mainly from emerging economies, according to a leaked draft of the most comprehensive UN study to date on the causes of climate change.”

“Rising incomes in nations like China, India and Brazil have produced explosive demand for cars and for consumer goods that must be delivered by highway, rail, ship or air. The new pollution, measured in millions of tons of greenhouse gases, may exceed all of the savings achieved through initiatives like subsidies for public transport and fuel efficiency.”

“Global car sales will rise 4 percent to 70.2 million in 2014 from last year, and are forecast to jump 27 percent by 2020, according to IHS Inc. The researcher expects demand to peak around 100 million units.”

“A decrease in emissions may come from government policies to change driving behavior, investments in public transport, substituting oil-based fuels in cars, ships and airplanes with natural gas, biofuels or renewable electricity, and new technologies such as lightweight vehicles and electric cars.”

Crossposted at Wonk Wire.

Editorial: ‘Extracting a Sane Energy Policy Around Methane’

ICYMI: The Washington Post ran an editorial on Methane on Apr. 4: “Will the United States’ energy revolution hurt the planet or help it? Will fracking for natural gas make fighting climate change harder or easier? Can the United States meet its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020? The answer to all of these crucial questions could depend on a colorless, odorless gas that shows up all over the place.”

“The substance is methane, the primary component in natural gas. Methane rises from landfills, escapes from coal mines, exits from cows’ posteriors, seeps out of drilling sites and leaks from the pipes that transport the fuel to large power plants and countertop stoves. Burning methane produces about half the heat-trapping carbon dioxide as burning coal, the greatest climate villain of the fossil fuels. But, uncombusted, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, a heat-trapper many times more potent than carbon dioxide. In the long term, carbon dioxide is the major worry, because methane does not linger and accumulate in the atmosphere the way carbon dioxide does. But the continuing release of large amounts of methane is still a big problem — accounting for about a tenth of the country’s greenhouse emissions, a proportion that could well rise without more effort to reduce it. Methane emissions can also foul local air, encouraging the formation of harmful ozone.”

US DOE: Green Means Nuclear, Too

CNBC reported this week that “the U.S. Department of Energy wants the public to know that its $30 billion program to support alternative energy projects is alive and well—and there’s more than just solar and wind power in the mix.”

“Think nuclear power.”

“In an interview with CNBC, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz declared the contentious green technology loan program “open for business.” As memories of the 2011 political scandal around solar panel maker Solyndra fade, Moniz touted a portfolio of more than 30 projects that he said are creating a blueprint for successful renewable energy funding.”

IKEA Invests in U.S. Wind Farm, Joins Growing Trend

The Chicago Tribune reports that “home goods giant Ikea is building a wind farm in downstate Illinois large enough to ensure that its stores will never have to buy a single kilowatt of power again.”

“’It’s about taking care of the environment and living within our means,’ said Rob Olson, chief financial officer of Ikea U.S.”

“With the project, Ikea’s first wind investment in the U.S., the company is among a growing number of companies taking care of their energy needs by buying or investing in power produced by the wind and sun.”

“Microsoft announced late last year it would purchase power from a 55 turbine wind farm in Texas. At the same time, Facebook announced it would power its new Iowa data centerusing wind energy from a wind farm MidAmerican Energy is constructing in the state. Over the last few years, Google has been ticking up its wind power purchases and investing in wind projects in Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.”

CA Pushes Bills Against Fracking

Bloomberg BNA reports that “the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water Quality advanced measures April 8 seeking to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing activities at oil and gas fields in California and to update the state’s oil spill response program to address the risks of importing crude oil by rail.”

“Both bills now head to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality for further action.”

“The measure to halt oil and gas well stimulation treatments cleared the committee on a 5-2 vote. The bill to update the state’s oil spill prevention and response program cleared the committee on a 7-1 vote.”

Keystone XL Pipeline Deadline Sought by 11 Senate Democrats

Democratic senators who favor completing the Keystone XL pipeline, including some of the party’s most vulnerable senators up for re-election, are once again prodding the White House to make up its mind, reports Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski.

In a new letter to President Barack Obama, 11 Democrats are making a pre-recess push for a May 31 deadline for action. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota spearheaded the new letter along with new Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.

Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolina joined Montana Democrats Jon Tester and John Walsh in signing on to the letter with Heitkamp and Landrieu. Begich, Pryor, Landrieu, Hagan and Walsh are all facing the voters this fall in states lost by Obama in 2012.

The senators also want Secretary of State John Kerry to move swiftly to report on the national interest determination related to the Keystone project after a current period for comment runs out.

The full text of the letter to Obama is posted, as well.

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