Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 26, 2015

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?’”

Republicans Split on Climate Change Action

Yale Project on Climate Change: “The new Republican leaders in Congress have pledged to roll back the EPA’s proposed new regulations on coal-fired power plants – a key component of President Obama’s strategy to reduce global warming.”

“However, Republican voters are actually split in their views about climate change. A look at public opinion among Republicans over the past few years finds a more complex – and divided – Republican electorate.”

“In contrast to the current goal of Republican leaders in Congress to block EPA regulations on carbon dioxide, half of all Republicans (56%) support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, including conservatives (54%).”
“Asked more narrowly about their support for setting strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants, majorities of moderate (62%) and liberal (73%) Republicans support the policy. By contrast, fewer than half of conservative Republicans (40%), and only one in four Tea Party Republicans (23%) support the policy.”

Traders See Oil Falling to $20 a Barrel

“Some traders have begun to place bets on oil prices slumping to as low as $20 a barrel – underscoring the scale of the crude rout and the murky outlook for the world’s staple industrial commodity,” the Financial Times reports.

“A few months ago such as scenario would have appeared apocalyptic – even at the peak of the financial crisis spot prices never went below $30 – but the crash has led some investors to buy options on prices falling even further.”

Oil Prices Keep Falling

“Oil prices took another sharp turn downward on Monday to levels not seen since the depths of the 2009 recession. Several international banks predicted even lower prices later this year because of an oversupplied global crude market,” the New York Times reports.

“The latest daily downward spiral of more than 5 percent has brought several crude oil benchmarks down by more than 55 percent since June in one of the fastest drops ever for the volatile commodity.”

“The drop came even as Venezuela and Iran coordinated their efforts to persuade OPEC to cut production; Canadian Natural Resources, a major global producer, announced deep investment cuts; and American companies dropped their rig drilling count at quickening speed.”

28 House Democrats Defy Obama, Join GOP to Pass Keystone

Defying President Barack Obama, 28 House Democrats joined Republicans Friday to help pass legislation to jump-start the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline project, Roll Call reports.

The defections are another indication that moderate Democrats, frustrated with midterm losses and weary of defending an unpopular president, may be more willing to break ranks with party leaders in 2015.

A day earlier, three top leaders of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to veto the bill, as he has promised, should it come to his desk.

“The Blue Dog Coalition stands ready to work with you and Congressional leaders to provide stringent oversight of construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, but we cannot miss this opportunity to create good paying jobs and put America on the path to be less reliant on oil from our foes,” wrote Democratic Reps. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Jim Costa of California.

A Hurdle is Cleared, Edging Keystone Pipeline to Final Decision

Wall Street Journal: “The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday against landowners challenging Keystone XL pipeline route through the state, possibly clearing a path for President Barack Obama to make a decision on the project that has been under review for more than six years.”

“Nebraska’s highest court, in a split decision, threw out a lower-court ruling that had found a 2012 state law on pipeline oversight unconstitutional. The law passed by the state legislature gave Nebraska’s governor the power to review and approve certain major pipelines, including Keystone XL. The judges sided with Nebraska’s former Republican governor, Dave Heineman, in a ruling that said the state law must remain in place because a required supermajority of the court wasn’t prepared to strike it down.”

“Resolution of the state case could clear the way for the Obama administration to complete a State Department review of the proposed pipeline.”

The Rise of Solar: 2014 Was a Banner Year

Sustainable Business: “2014 will be the best year yet, with another 7.4 GW of solar PV  added – a 42% jump from 2013, another very strong year. That brings the US total close to 20 GW and it’s expected to double again in the next two years!”

“This year, the US solar industry crossed the threshold – providing 1% of US electricity. If it reaches 50 GW by the end of 2016, as Deutsche Bank projects, it will be supplying 2%.”

Solar 2016 Deutsche Bank

What accounts for the growth? “The sharp drop in solar prices – down 53% since 2010 – and cheaper financing costs. Even if federal tax credits change, Deutsche Bank expects financing costs to fall from 7-9% now to around 5.4% next year, helping new financing models like Yieldcos, solar loans, asset backed securities and retail bond offerings.”

“Signaling the growing importance of solar energy to America’s future, the widely read and cited annual State of American Energy Report includes, for the first time ever, a comprehensive section on the rapid growth of the U.S. solar energy industry and its impact on our nation’s economy and environment,” reports Eco Watch.

Head of Trade Association Leader Calls for Changes to Oil, Gas Regulations

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that “renewable fuel standards, ozone regulations and a ban on crude oil exports all made sense when they were instituted, but it’s 2015 now and the shale gas boom has so changed the U.S. energy landscape that the old rules are outdated.”

“That was American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard’s message Tuesday during his annual ‘state of energy address’ in Washington, which coincided with the first session day of the 114th Congress.”

“The API is a trade association for the oil and natural gas industry, representing about 400 energy companies. Those companies are emboldened by oil-friendly Republicans’ wins in November, and Mr. Gerard said it’s time to throw out antiquated policies.”

White House Promises to Veto GOP’s Keystone Legislation

The new GOP-led Congress is moving quickly to put a bill expediting the Keystone XL Pipeline on President Barack Obama’s desk, despite a new veto threat from the White House, reports Roll Call.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, in his daily briefing Tuesday, said the president has no plans to sign the legislation.

“I can confirm for you that if this bill passes this Congress then the president wouldn’t sign it,” he said.

“The pipeline route has not even been finalized yet,” he said in reference to a Nebraska court case.

His comments came after new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved earlier Tuesday — the first day of the new 114th Congress — to expedite the pro-pipeline legislation.

A Connection Between Fracking and Increased Earthquakes?

New Republic: “Oklahoma had more earthquakes with over 3.0 magnitude this year than California—241 to 140, as of June. And in just 14 hours last weekend, Oklahoma registered three of a total seven quakes over that magnitude.”

‘The question is whether these Oklahoma quakes are natural. Scientists increasingly believe that fracking by the oil and gas industry is triggering earthquakes in regions that otherwise should be relatively stable. Fracking itself isn’t to blame, they say, but the large amount of wastewater produced in the process.”

“That’s not to say fracking wastewater always leads to earthquakes … Very few of the 35,000 wastewater injection sites nationwide end up causing earthquakes, and even fewer quakes can be felt. And yet, a handful of wells can be linked to entire regions of seismic activity. For example, a recent study from Cornell University researchers in Science magazine found that four ‘modern, very high-rate injection wells’ were linked to earthquake activity near one Oklahoma town.”

“Here, a graph from USGS shows how the rate of earthquakes over 3.0 has increased in central and eastern U.S., particularly since 2010:”

Earthquakes

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