June 2009 Archives

June 29, 2009

Environmental Groups Divided Over Support of Waxman-Markey Bill

Environmental groups are debating whether to support the bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, in its present form. Principal criticisms are that it strips away some of the Clean Air Act authority to reduce coal pollution in new coal-fired power plants, it grants too muich money to carbon capture and sequestration projects, and its goals for near-term carbon dioxide emission reduction are too weak. Moveon.org has asked its members to vote on whether to support the bill in its current form.

A good summary of arguments pro and con can be found at the Yale Environment 360 website.

Meanwhile, even the Texas Legislature appears to have jumped on the renewable energy bandwagon. It passed two bills to encourage use of alternative fuels in fleet vehicles. Senate Bill 1759 creates a Clean Fleet Program that provides grants to fleet owners to replace their diesel vehicles with alternative-fuel vehicles. House Bill 432 amends the State's Fleet Alternative Fuel Program to require that 50% of the state's 27,000 fleet vehicles use clean alternative fuels 80% of the time, a requirement that will be phased in as state fleet vehicles come up for replacement. Law enforcement and emergency vehicles are exempt, and exemptions can be granted if the agency shows that it is not cost-effective to meet the requirements.

June 26, 2009

Lots of Energy Behind Use of Natural Gas as Vehicle Fuel

Momentum appears to be gaining to increase use of compressed natural gas in vehicles in the U.S., both to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil and as a "bridge fuel" to fight global warming.

  • Last Week, the Potential Gas Committee issued a report estimating that the toal U.S. natural gas resource base at year-end 2008 was 1,836 trillion cubic feet, an increase of 39% from its 2006 estimate. Most of this increase comes from newly discovered shale reservoirs. Boone Pickens said that the new estimate "is the equivalent of nearly 350 billion barrels of oil, about the same as Saudi Arabia's oil reserves."
  • Boone Pickens' energy plan includes greatly expanding the use of natural gas as fuel for transportation.
  • At current natural gas prices, compressed natural gas is about $1.00 cheaper than gasoline.
  • Natural gas is clean-burning: greenhouse gas emissions are 20 to 22 percent lower than comparable gasoline or diesel vehicles. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are the cleanest-emission vehicles now on the road. In tests conducted in metropolitan areas that have been designated by EPA as non-attainment areas for air quality, exhaust from NGVs has sometimes tested cleaner than the ambient air. Natural gas produces about half of the carbon dioxide emissions as coal for the same amount of heating energy.
  • The biggest obstacle to use of NGVs is lack of available refueling stations. The map at the following link shows compressed natural gas fueling stations in the U.S.: http://rpm.nrel.gov/transatlas/launch/ . Most are in California and along the east coast.
  • In the rest of the world, natural gas is a major transportation fuel. In Italy, there are more than 800 CNG stations. In Germany, NGVs are expected to increase to 2 million vehicles by 2020. Worldwide, there are more than seven million NGVs on the roads, with the largest numbers in Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, Italy, India, China, Thailand and Iran.
  • Many manufacturers make bi-fuel vehicles, capable of burning either gasoline or compressed natural gas. Major manufacturers of NGVs include Fiat, Opel, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda and others. The Honda Civic GX is the only CNG-powered car currently sold in the U.S, mostly in California. Fiat's expertise in NGVs is expected to be imported into U.S.-made Chrysler vehicles.
  • Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake, drives a bi-fuel Chevrolet Tahoe and says that CNG has cost him on average about 95 cents per gallon.
  • Many state and federal incentives are being enacted to encourage construction of NGV fueling stations.  For example, Oklahoma passed a new law that will allow the State to provide a refueling structure for fleet services used by schools, county and municipal governments, and sets up a fund to provide money to state agencies and political subdivisions to lease or buy NGVs.
  • "Compressed Natural Gas" and "Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles" have their own entries in Wikipedia.

So when are you going to by your first NGV?



June 17, 2009

Bill to Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing of Wells Introduced in Congress

Four legislators from Colorado, New York and Pennsylvania have introduced a bill making hydraulic fracturing subject to regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Water Drinking Act.  Dubbed the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, or FRAC Act ( FRAC Act.pdf), the bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their fracturing processes. The press release ( Press Release FRAC Act.pdf) from the legislators states that "It's time to fix an unfortunate chapter in the Bush administration's energy policy and close the 'Halliburton loophole' that has enabled energy companies to pump enormous amounts of toxins, such as benzene and toluene, into the ground that then jeopardize the quality of our drinking water." (Benzene and toluene are not additives to frac fluid.)

An energy lobbying group, Energy in Depth, has denounced the bill as an "unnecessary financial burden" on the industry which could result in more than half of U.S. oil wells and one-third of gas wells being closed, and reduction in natural gas production of up to 245 billion cubic feet per year.


Continue reading "Bill to Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing of Wells Introduced in Congress" »

June 11, 2009

Texas Supreme Court asked to take up duty of holder of executive rights in Lesley v. Veterans Land Board

The Texas Supreme Court has been asked to review a case decided by the Eastland Court of Appeals, Lesley v. Veterans Land Board, that raises important questions about the duty of a mineral owner to owners of non-executive mineral interests. If the Court decides to take the case, the outcome could have important implications for future development of mineral interests in urbanized areas of Texas.

The important facts in Lesley are as follows:

Continue reading "Texas Supreme Court asked to take up duty of holder of executive rights in Lesley v. Veterans Land Board " »

June 4, 2009

Air Pollution Caused by Barnett Shale Drilling

A study ( Armendariz Study.pdf) published last February by Al Armendariz, an engineering professor at Southern Methodist University, concluded that gas drilling in the Barnett Shale contributes about as much air pollution to the D-FW area as emissions from cars and trucks. Dr. Armendariz's study was financed by the Environmental Defense Fund. Dr. Armendariz concluded that in the nine counties included in the D-FW metroplex area, gas drilling produced about 112 tons per day of pollution, compared with 120 tons per day from vehicle traffic. Dr. Armendariz suggested that pollution from drilling activities could be greatly reduced by requiring vapor recovery units on tank batteries and "green completions" of wells to prevent gas from being vented when a well is being completed.

Representatives of the industry quickly refuted Dr. Armendariz's conclusions, arguing that his facts were all wrong

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reviewed Dr. Armendariz's report and finds its conclusions consistent with the TCEQ's own analysis. Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, was quoted by the Fort Worth Star Telegram as saying that "The estimates Dr. Armendariz provides for individual source categories are comparable to the TCEQ estimates."  TCEQ estimates that gas drilling in the nine-county area generates 90 tons per day of pollution.

The D-FW metroplex area is a designated "non-attainment zone," required by the Environmental Protecton Agency to take measures to reduce the amount of ground-level ozone. The TCEQ believes that the best way to reduce ozone levels is to regulate nitrous oxides by reducing pollution from cars and trucks. A bill to require green completions in the Barnett Shale died in the recent Texas legislative session.

Expect future efforts to require companies to take measures to reduce venting of methane and volatile organic compounds in oil and gas exploration activities.