Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 22, 2014

Sen. Markey Pushes Back as U.S. Oil Export Discussion Increases

The Boston Globe reports that “Senator Edward J. Markey is fighting an increasingly lonely, and perhaps futile, battle to prevent the overseas export of crude oil gushing from shale fields in North Dakota, Texas, and other parts of the country.”

“For nearly 40 years, US companies have been banned from exporting American crude, a policy imposed after the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s shook the US economy to its core. But as domestic production hits record levels, the administration of President Obama is loosening the longtime restriction, recently allowing two Texas companies to ship an ultralight crude oil known as condensate to overseas markets.”

“Those decisions, made earlier this year, are viewed as the first steps toward lifting the decades-old export ban — a policy that Markey and others view as short-sighted for a nation that until only recently relied heavily on foreign oil to meet its energy needs.”

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Senate Passage of Barrasso Bill Will Streamline BLM Oil and Gas Permits

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that “the U.S. Senate has passed a bill aimed at streamlining approval of oil and gas drilling permits on federal land.”

“Industry advocates hailed the move, saying it would help alleviate a permitting backlog at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Landowners, meanwhile, questioned the legislation, arguing that it expedites a process that already fails to take into account the concerns of property owners.”

“The bill’s passage Tuesday represents a victory for U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who co-sponsored the measure with Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico.”

Oklahoma AG: Federal Regulators Target Fossil Fuel Industry

The Tulsa World reports that “decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency and other Obama administration regulators are largely driven by an anti-fossil fuel agenda, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told a meeting of oil and gas executives…on Friday morning.”

“’Whether it’s EPA through (carbon standards), EPA through regional haze (regulations) or Fish and Wildlife through endangered species, what we see is a regulatory approach that says ‘Fossil fuels are bad, and we’re going to do all we can to elevate renewables.’”

“Even threatened or endangered species designations are dictated by attempts to discourage oil and gas production, Pruitt said, and cited the case of the lesser prairie chicken.”

Energy and Commerce Race Heats Up as Election Nears

After a quiet couple of months, the race to be the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee is heating up again, Roll Call reports.

As the November election nears, the two Democrats vying for the party’s top spot on the panel are stepping up efforts to show off their clout.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey made the bolder move on Thursday, releasing a letter signed by 50 of his supporters that outlines why they think he should be given the assignment over his opponent, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California.

“First and foremost, seniority is critical to this institution and Frank is the next most member of the Committee,” they wrote in the letter, obtained by CQ Roll Call, of Pallone, who is the current No. 3 on the committee, while Eshoo falls behind at No. 5.

A Fundamental Shift in the Nation’s Energy Market?

Financial Times: “Large wind farms and solar plants are now cost-competitive with gas-fired power in many parts of the US even without subsidy, according to Lazard, raising the prospect of a fundamental shift in the country’s energy market.”

“Costs have fallen and efficiency has risen for solar panels and wind turbines … to the point that in areas of strong wind or sunshine they can provide electricity more cheaply than fossil fuel plants.”

“The falling cost of renewable power will encourage greater investment by generators and utilities, and could help ease public concerns about the cost of federal and state regulations intended to support alternative energy and cut carbon dioxide emissions.”

“In the first half of this year, almost half the utility-scale generation capacity added in the US has been in solar and wind power, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.”

“The economics of wind power have been improving sharply, with its lowest possible unsubsidised cost dropping from a minimum of $101 per megawatt hour in 2009 to a minimum of $37 per MWh today.”

“The decline in solar costs has been even more dramatic: since 2009 the lowest possible cost of generation from a large photovoltaic solar plant has plunged almost 80 per cent, from $323 per MWh to $72 per MWh.”

Wisconsin: Energy Research Center Connects Business, Research

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that “the nearly vacant rooms and labs in a building on Milwaukee’s near north side can become a place of innovation, prototyping, testing and home to start-up businesses.”

“That’s the vision of Jeff Anthony, recently appointed director of the Energy Innovation Center, which will house labs and a small-business energy, power and control incubator inside the former Eaton Corp. research center.”

“Anthony, who spent much of his career at We Energies, has overseen quality control at a nuclear plant, and until recently, worked in Washington for a wind power trade association.”

Senator to Draft Legislation that Halts Coal Leasing on Federal Lands

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that “U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said this week he intends to draft legislation halting coal leasing on federal lands after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rejected his call for a leasing moratorium.”

“Markey had urged BLM to suspend its leasing program while it considers reforms suggested by the Government Accountability Office last year.”

“But in an Aug. 14 letter released by the senator’s office this week, BLM Director Neil Korze rejected that plea.”

Report: Offshore Drilling Would Create East Coast Boon

Fuel Fix reports that “the economic benefits that would flow from offshore oil drilling in U.S. Atlantic waters outweigh the potential environmental costs of the activity, according to a study released Wednesday.”

“The report, commissioned by the Interstate Policy Alliance and South Carolina’s Palmetto Policy Forum, says oil and gas drilling from Delaware to Georgia would generate $10.8 billion to $60 billion in added economic value for those states, plus $2.1 billion to $11.6 billion in tax revenues.”

“Environmental effects from the activity — including costs associated with air emissions, carbon pollution and oil spills — are estimated to have a price tag of $395 million to $19 billion.”

Energy Outlook Should Scotland Vote ‘Yes’

What might the energy outlook be should Scotland vote “yes” for independence?

The New York Times reports that “Scottish nationalists have long argued that being governed from London has deprived their country of its fair share of the wealth from Britain’s oil and natural gas fields, which mostly lie in North Sea waters off their shores.”

“’It’s Scotland’s oil’ was the rallying cry in the 1970s that helped raise the profile of the Scottish Nationalist Party, which now leads the country and is pushing for a vote to secede in the referendum on Thursday. Alex Salmond, the politician leading the separatist movement, has pointed to North Sea energy as the treasure that would help finance an independent Scotland — ensuring that the country could continue the generous public spending, including free university tuition, that he is promising voters.”

“But North Sea energy revenue — even if the bulk of it went to a stand-alone Scotland, as is expected — would not be sufficient to justify such a big bet on the country’s economic future.”

Meanwhile, Fortune reports that “an independent Scotland could become an energy industry powerhouse.”

Texas Feud Over Climate Education Reflects National Battle

Clare Foran of the National Journal reports on a Texas Board of Education proposal to introduce textbooks that “teach climate-science doubt—presenting the link between greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity and global warming as an unsubstantiated and controversial theory.”

“The skirmish over Texas textbooks is part of a national battle over climate education.”

“Science-education activists are pushing states to adopt a new set of science standards that reflect the scientific consensus on global warming, rather than the popular controversy. The academic framework, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, has been endorsed by organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association and the American Meteorological Society.”

“But the standards have faced intense pushback from conservatives and tea-party groups in a number of states. Earlier this year, Wyoming legislators blocked the standards due to the climate-change requirement. South Carolina’s Legislature also passed a bill that would prohibit the standards from being adopted.”

“The Lone Star State adopted its own set of science guidelines in 2009—so for now there’s no room for debate. But a fight over how climate change should be taught in schools continues to rage in Texas. The focus has just shifted from standards to textbooks.”

The ‘Greenwashing’ of Big Business

Naomi Klein, writing in The Guardian, asks why humanity is incapable of taking collective, substantive action on climate change.

“What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.”

“It is our collective misfortune that governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 – the exact year that marked the dawning of ‘globalization.’”

“What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

WY May Face EPA Ozone Violations

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that “as many as eight Wyoming counties could exceed the federal standard for safe air quality if, as expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposes lowering its threshold on ozone pollution later this year.

“Many factors remain undetermined. EPA will not finalize the rule until 2015. Then it needs to embark on a new round of air quality monitoring before determining what regions are in violation of the new standard. Exceptional events — those rare high pollution days that skew an area’s air quality averages — also need to be accounted for before a decision is made.”

The piece continues: “Environmentalists said that news should be a call to action, prompting the state to improve its air quality before the federal government forces it do so. State officials said it is too early to tell where EPA is headed, but added they are monitoring the discussions. And a top oil and gas lobbyist questioned the revision altogether, asking how much more Wyoming can reasonably be expected to improve the quality of its air.”

Does ‘Environmental Extremism’ Threaten Canadian Energy?

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that “RCMP analysts have warned government and industry that environmental extremists pose a “clear and present criminal threat” to Canada’s energy sector, and are more likely to strike at critical infrastructure than religiously inspired terrorists, according to a report released under Access to Information.”

“Written by the force’s critical infrastructure intelligence team, the 22-page RCMP document argues there is a ‘growing criminal phenomenon’ associated with environmentalism that aims to interfere with regulatory reviews and force companies to forego development.”

Cost of Keystone XL Pipeline In South Dakota More Than Doubles

Reuters reports that “the cost of the South Dakota portion of TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline has more than doubled to $1.974 billion in the last four years the project has awaited federal approval, the company said in a petition filed with the state Public Utilities Commission on Monday.”

The leap in costs from the previous 2010 estimate of $921.4 million is due to factors including the protracted regulatory process, inflation, currency changes, labour cost increases and materials storage, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said.”

“The project to build the 1,179 mile (1,900-km) pipeline to carry 830,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast, is in its sixth year of waiting for a U.S. permit after running into fierce environmental opposition.”

Study: Fracking Didn’t Cause Tainted Water

The New York Times reports that “a study of tainted drinking water in areas where natural gas is produced from shale shows that the contamination is most likely caused by leaky wells rather than the process of hydraulic fracturing used to release the gas from the rock.”

“The study looked at seven cases in Pennsylvania and one in Texas where water wells had been contaminated by methane and other hydrocarbon gases. Both states have extensive deposits of gas-bearing shale that have been exploited in recent years as part of a surge in domestic energy production. Some environmental groups have suggested that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could cause the gas to migrate into drinking water aquifers.”

The piece continues: “…in their analysis, published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found no evidence that fractured shale led to water contamination. Instead, they said cement used to seal the outside of the vertical wells, or steel tubing used to line them, was at fault, leading to gas leaking up the wells and into aquifers.”

Adds Fuel Fix: “Contrary to some suspicions, the researchers found, methane in the water reservoirs did not seep up from horizontal drills working deep underground. Instead, the gas leaked from a source much closer to the water: faulty casings and cement rings used to insulate the central shaft of a gas well.”

“The results, the researchers said, help clarify the industry’s role in water pollution.”

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