Energy companies and environmentalists have reached rare common ground over the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of fossil fuels, agreeing to a set of environmental standards that would diminish the environmental impact of drilling operations in the northeastern United States.
The collaborative effort would raise the bar on the environmental practices for virtually all energy companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches from Ohio to Pennsylvania, West Virginia to New York. It also signals that the controversial practice of fracking may be gaining legitimacy. Rather than trying to ban it, environmental groups may have to start pushing to regulate it.
“It’s here,” says Mark Brownstein, associate vice president and chief counsel of the US energy and climate program of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which was part of the collaborative effort. “Ninety percent of new oil and gas wells developed onshore in the United States are using some form of hydraulic fracturing.” The point of the collaborative effort “is making sure that it’s done with the utmost attention to the environment.”
Monday’s announcement of the new standards – and the creation of a new center to promulgate those standards – come as Illinois wrestles with legislation that would regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing. On Thursday, a vote on a compromise bill that had support from both environmentalists and the oil and gas industry was postponed because a new wrinkle over licensing caused industry to withdraw its support for the measure. ( Continue… )
Cyprus is in a bit of a piggle, but the European Union has offered a solution; they will bail out the Cypriot banks and in return take a percentage of all deposits held in those banks. Obviously this is a rather extreme solution, and one that has been met with rage by the millions of people who keep their savings in Cypriot accounts.
Russia’s business and political elite rely heavily on Cypriot offshore accounts to avoid taxes and political risks at home, and according to Moodys, they stand to lose around $3.1 billion due to the proposed offer.
Gazprom has apparently offered a deal to save the Cypriot economy, and the Russian wealth held there, by suggesting that Cyprus sell it the exploration rights to the promising offshore natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea.
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What a mess President Obama makes as he tries to placate both sides of a dispute and comes out looking just inept.
The president’s possible approval of the 2,000-mile-long pipeline from the oil sands (previously known as the tar sands, and most correctly bitumen sands) of Alberta, Canada, to the refineries and shipping terminals of the U.S. Gulf Coast is a tale of political calculation gone sadly wrong. His clumsiness is not helped by a favorable environmental statement issued recently.
In January 2012, the president was expected to give his approval and that of the State Department to what is an international agreement, he punted. Concerned about stout opposition in his own administration, and particularly from his Environmental Protection Administration chief Lisa Jackson, Obama demurred and requested more studies.
This did two things: It antagonized the Canadian people, always sensitive to slights from the United States, and humiliated the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Joe Oliver, Canada's minister for natural resources, told me on the record just before Obama’s statement that he had had strong indications from the administration that the Keystone XL pipeline would be approved. In the event, he and the Canadian government were outraged and embarrassed. ( Continue… )
The worldwide glut in solar panels has finally reached China, which created the surplus.
Suntech Power Holdings, one of the world's largest manufacturers of solar panels, said it has failed to make payment on $541 million in bonds, which were due last Friday. In a statement, the manufacturer based in Wuxi, China, said it is working on "strategic alternatives" with lenders and potential investors. It's stock, which in 2007 traded above $80 a share on the New York Stock Exchange, closed at 59 cents on Tuesday, its lowest close on record.
Solar panelmakers worldwide have suffered as Chinese panels flooded the market. Plunging prices have forced companies worldwide to shut down operations or declare bankruptcy. In perhaps the most infamous case, California-based Solyndra received $528 million in Department of Energy loan guarantees and then went bankrupt in 2011.
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Last year the US government imposed tariffs on Chinese solar manufacturers in an effort to curb the "dumping" of underpriced products. ( Continue… )
President Barack Obama used his weekly address to say the country is ready to take control over its energy future. This is because oil production is at a 15-year high at the same time that imports are at a 20-year low. American commuters, however, still pay what the president said was the equivalent of a new tax by way of higher-than-average retail gasoline prices. The best way to shield consumers from pain at the pump, the president said, was to move away from oil altogether. A look at consumer trends, however, suggests the American economy isn't quite ready for low-carbon prime time.
A series of refinery and market issues this year pushed gasoline prices higher earlier than during past years. In February, some U.S. regional markets saw gasoline prices top $4 per gallon. By mid-March, however, prices pulled back to seasonal lows. Motor group AAA reported that U.S. commuters paid Monday, on average, $3.68 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That's about 4 percent less than they paid during the same time last year. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency said the average fuel economy rating for model year 2012 passenger vehicles was 23.8 mpg, the highest on record.
Obama delivered his weekly address from the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, home to some of the most advanced vehicle battery technology in the nation. There, he echoed a pledge made during his State of the Union address last month by speaking of plans to use oil and natural gas money to help fund alternatives to hydrocarbons as the primary source of fuel from passenger vehicles. ( Continue… )
Imagine for a moment that it's 2050, the United States has managed to cut the oil used by cars and light trucks by 80 percent, and you're pulling out of your driveway.
What is it that you're driving?
It would be a light, highly efficient vehicle. New cars in 2050 would have Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ratings of about 74 miles per gallon, better than twice today's standards. It might be powered by a traditional internal combustion engine, a battery, or an engine burning biofuels, hydrogen, or natural gas. Your car would probably be cheap to run but cost several thousand dollars more to buy (and that's not counting inflation).
That's what the future might look like if the United States committed itself to reducing the oil use and greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks, according to a new study by the National Research Council. The NRC, a private, Washington-based nonprofit, founded by congressional charter to provide expert advice on scientific matters, found that the US could meet the goal of an 80 percent cut in the oil consumption of light-duty vehicles (LDV) by 2050 if the federal government provided strong leadership.
But the prospects for cutting the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from LDVs by 80 percent look more challenging. ( Continue… )
Canadian coal plant retrofit could be a 'game changer' (Sponsor content)
A recent story from E&E reported on the progress of Canadian utility SaskPower’s 43-year-old coal plant at its Boundary Dam Power Station. The facility is being retrofitted to capture roughly 90 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions and store the gas deep underground.
The Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Project will see Unit #3 at a coal-fired power plant located at Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada, rebuilt with a fully-integrated carbon capture and storage (CCS) system. It will be the first commercial-scale power plant equipped with a fully integrated CCS system. Operations are expected to begin in 2014.
According to the story, “The 110-megawatt project may be a game changer in two ways — it could become the world’s first commercial demonstration of carbon capture technology on a power plant at large scale. And it differs from other proposals in that it is a retrofit of an older coal plant and the retrofit might later be applied to similar plants.”
The Boundary Dam project will reduce CO2 emissions by approximately one million tons a year — the equivalent of taking more than 250,000 cars off Saskatchewan roads annually. The CO2 will be sold to resource companies to be used in enhanced oil recovery operations. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) will also be captured and sold.
“Boundary Dam will make the first benchmark. It will define the costs, which is so important,” Mike Monea, SaskPower president of carbon capture and storage initiatives, said at a briefing in Washington, D.C., last week. “Whoever builds the next one won’t have to spend as much money as us.”
Globally, more coal is expected to be used to produce electricity in 2017 than now, despite changing dynamics in the United States, according to the International Energy Agency.
The United States is expected to lead the pack among non-OPEC members in terms of oil supply growth for 2013. That's the assessment from this month's market report from the Vienna-based cartel. OPEC said it projected U.S. oil supply growth of around 600,000 barrels per day in 2013, with most of that coming out of tight oil formations in the country. For the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, that means oil imports should fall to their lowest level since 1985. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said more energy development is the key to a balanced budget, a sentiment enforced by EIA predictions of 7.9 million U.S. bpd by 2014. OPEC, however, said it may need to revise its figures because a possible slowdown in the U.S. oil boom.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., unveiled a 91-page plan that he says would balance the budget in 10 years without raising taxes. The congressman said the Obama administration was over-subsidizing renewable energy programs to the detriment of the fossil fuels industry. With that policy, Ryan said the administration is standing in the way of the country's true energy potential.
"Our country has 163 billion barrels of recoverable oil and enough natural gas to meet the country’s demand for 90 years," his agenda states. (Related article: China Set to Become the World’s Largest Oil Importer)
The EIA, in its latest report, said it estimates 2012 oil production averaged around 6.5 million barrels per day. The average for November and December, however, was 7 million bpd, the highest volume recorded in twenty years. By 2014, that level should reach 7.9 million bpd. For EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski, that means the United States is relying less on foreign markets to meet its energy needs. By next year, foreign imports should fall to 32 percent of consumption, putting the United States on the road to the energy independence envisioned by House Republicans.
OPEC finds that tight oil production, coupled with modest growth from the Gulf of Mexico, meant most of the supply growth from non-members would come from the United States. For Ryan, expanding that growth to potential on federal lands, now off-limits, could add another $14.4 trillion in cumulative economic activity during the next 30 years. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings said that's reason enough to embrace fossil fuels over tax increases. ( Continue… )
Rep. Ed Markey, ranking member of the House Energy Committee, said an investigation into Shell's offshore Alaska campaign suggested the company wasn't ready to work in extreme environments. An Interior Department report found problems with the way Shell managed its Alaska campaign last year. Last week, Markey added that he wanted to restrict oil and gas exports to ensure U.S. energy security. Amid the firestorm over Republican pressure to pass the Keystone XL pipeline, some party leaders on the other side of the aisle are embracing a protective model as a way to keep the domestic economy going. The political debate around energy, however, is becoming less about energy and more about partisanship.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Tommy Beaudreau led the Interior Department's review of Shell's work offshore Alaska. The New Years Eve grounding of drillship Kulluk gave environmental campaigners the fodder they needed to reiterate their position that arctic oil and gas exploration wasn't safe. Beaudreau found that "Alaska's harsh environment was unforgiving" to Shell's lack of oversight in Alaska.
Markey, D-Mass., said the report showed Shell wasn't prepared to drill in the harsh arctic environment of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. (Related article: Using Oil Revenues to Research Alternative Fuels)
Clean-coal power plant to break ground in Texas (Sponsor content)
In a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, author Joe Nocera talks about “A Real Carbon Solution” in Odessa, Tex. as the Summit Power Group plans to break ground on a $2.5 billion coal gasification power plant. Summit has named it the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP).
TCEP is a “NowGen” Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) facility that will incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in a first-of-its-kind commercial clean coal power plant.
TCEP will be a 400MW power/poly-gen plant that will also produce urea for the U.S. fertilizer market and capture 90 percent of its carbon dioxide (CO2) – approximately 3 million tons per year – which will be used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the West Texas Permian Basin.
According to Nocera, “Part of the promise of this power plant is its use of gasified coal; because the gasification process doesn’t burn the coal, it makes for far cleaner energy than a traditional coal-fired plant.”
“But another reason this plant — and a handful of similar plants — has such enormous potential is that it will capture some 90 percent of the facility’s already reduced carbon emissions. Some of those carbon emissions will be used to make fertilizer. The rest will be sold to the oil industry,which will push it into the ground, as part of a process called enhanced oil recovery.”
TCEP received a $450MM award in 2010 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative. TCEP received its final air quality permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on December 28, 2010.
The Texas Clean Energy project will be the first United States based power plant that combines both Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle and carbon capture and storage technologies.