Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have reintroduced their energy efficiency bill, S. 761, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act. A earlier version passed a Senate committee vote, but received criticism due to a provision to expand a DOE loan program. That provision has been removed and the bill is receiving bipartisan support that suggests it might make it to a full vote this time. Provisions include improved building codes and advance of efficiency measures in the federal government‘s operations, as well as business operations. Over 200 organizations are backing the bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources has scheduled a full committee hearing on the bill for April 23rd.
A town in Arkansas may have become a black mark against the Keystone pipeline project. The recent ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline rupture and oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas involved several thousand barrels of oil spilling into a residential neighborhood and potentially into the local water supply via a storm drain. Keystone opponents are pointing to this incident as a small-scale example of what can be expected if the project moves forward. Keystone allies, meanwhile, point out that the Pegasus pipeline is sixty-five years old and does not contain many standard safeguards in more modern pipeline designs that would be included in the Keystone construction.
Hydraulic fracturing seems to be the ultimate method for getting a reluctant genie out of its bottle. But stories of earthquakes, contamination, and flaming water underscore the old adage that you should be careful what you wish for. A number of towns and cities seem to be taking this to heart, as they enact or consider bans on fracking at the municipal level. Several towns in Colorado are trying to establish bans. In Sanford, New York, you aren’t even allowed to discuss it because the town board passed a resolution barring further discussion on the topic. And to the north, in Nova Scotia, Inverness County is considering a ban in an area where no drilling has even been planned.
You may recall our recent coverage of the departure announcement of Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced its choice for his replacement – Sally Jewell, CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. While Jewell has never held a government position before, she has previously worked in both the oil industry (as a petroleum engineer for Mobil) and the financial industry (as a commercial banker with Washington Mutual). So Beltway insiders who want to question her credentials will have to choose their words carefully, especailly since she is the first woman nominated for a Cabinet position this term. Of course, Jewell will still have to be confirmed by the Senate, but after climbing mountains in Antarctica, the confirmation hearings will probably seem like a walk in the national park.
Just days after the pomp and circumstance of the Inauguration, President Obama is being confronted with a renewed push to make a decision on one of the more divisive environmental issues of his presidency – the Keystone pipline. On Tuesday, Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska approved new revisions to the pipeline route through the state, which became the last of the six states along the route to approve the plan. The President had previously delayed the approval process due to concerns about the Nebraska route, including possible effects on nearby water supplies in the event of a spill. A group of 53 Senators sent a letter to Obama encouraging swift approval of the new plan.
One piece of the puzzle is still missing – an environmental review of the plan by the State Department is still underway and is expected to be completed sometime in March. While that review is separate, the approval from Nebraska at the state level has increased pressure to resolve the situation.
The Associated Press revealed on Wednesday that it discovered the EPA had evidence indicating that a major drilling company was responsible for contaminating drinking water at homes near its operation. When the EPA moved against the company, however, it threatened not to cooperate in a large-scale study of fracking within the industry. Soon after, the EPA ceased investigative activity directly targeting the company. Yet at one point, the agency was so concerned about the local water quality that it issued an Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order regarding the situation. The order was later retracted.
On January 8th, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that water flowing from an “improved portion” of a waterway into an “unimproved portion” of the same waterway is not a “discharge of a pollutant” under the Clean Water Act. The case, Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council, affects dams as well as sewer and storm systems. This reverses a previous decision by the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals that caused some concern among hydropower stakeholders. The opinion was delivered by Justice Ginsburg.
In a surprise announcement this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said she will resign her post and leave the adminisitration at some point following the President’s January State of the Union address. Jackson, 50, has held the post for four years and made headlines as the first African-American Administrator of the agency. While her brief official statement gave no indication of her reason for leaving, media speculation over possible reasons for her departure has already begun.
Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced an ambitious plan for both the development and protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (aka NPR-A). Released as the Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, the plan covers both the development of oil drilling and pipelines in the reserve and protection for caribou, migratory birds, and other wildlife in the area. The plan is notable in that “[t]he Final IAP/EIS is the first management plan that covers the entire Reserve, including 9.2 million acres in the southwest area. Previous plans covered the northeast and northwest planning areas only. The comprehensive blueprint will allow for access to oil and gas resources on 11.8 million acres, which are estimated to hold 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable natural gas.”
The full list of documents comprising the Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement can be found on the Bureau of Land Management website. (Scroll down to the heading “National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement”.) The draft version of the plan, released back in March, is still available on the same webpage.
On Wednesday, the Energy Department released a report conducted by NERA Economic Consulting regarding a move to increase U.S. natural gas exports and the possible effects on the domestic natural gas market. Among the report’s key findings: “This report contains an analysis of the impact of exports of LNG on the U.S. economy under a wide range of different assumptions about levels of exports, global market conditions, and the cost of producing natural gas in the U.S… Across all these scenarios, the U.S. was projected to gain net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports. Moreover, for every one of the market scenarios examined, net economic benefits increased as the level of LNG exports increased.” The potential economic benefits may soon result in some movement by the President, as Reuters noted, “The Obama administration has wrestled with how to manage the nation’s newfound shale gas for more than a year, putting export project approvals on hold pending the release of the economic report.”
The documents made available include: the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s analysis “Effect of Increased Natural Gas Exports on Domestic Energy Markets” as well as NERA’s study “Macroeconomic Impacts of LNG Exports from the United States” and a summary list of pending LNG export applications. The DOE is inviting the public to provide comment on the study.