Articles Posted in Energy Policy

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Dr. Scott Tinker and Switch Energy Alliance have released their second documentary about energy, Switch On. A great film.

Scott’s first documentary, Switch, debuted in 2012, an award-winning film that has now been seen by millions. It sought to educate Americans and the developed world about the sources and uses of energy in the developed world, our challenges and our choices. Scott’s second documentary focuses on the challenges of energy production and consumption for two billion people in the developing the world, and what is happening with energy in those places. Switch Energy Alliance was formed by Scott as a non-profit “dedicated to inspiring an energy-educated future that is objective, nonpartisan, and sensible.”

Dr. Tinker is a geologist, educator, energy expert and documentary filmmaker. He is Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin and is the State Geologist of Texas. He holds the Edwin Allday Endowed Chair of Subsurface Geology and is Associate Dean for Research at the BEG. He has a gift for making difficult concepts simple and conveying information in an objective and entertaining way.

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The cover story in The Economist this week is titled “Crude awakening – The truth about Big Oil and climate change.”  It comes in the wake of the introduction by a group of new Democratic Congress members of a proposed “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change.

When I began my career some forty years ago the effect of carbon emissions on the earth’s climate was not a matter of concern. The focus was on cleaning up our water and air – under the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. And those acts have had a big impact on our environment. Although burning fossil fuels contributed to air pollution and pollution from fossil fuels has been greatly reduced, the emissions regulated and reduced did not include carbon dioxide, which was not considered harmful to the environment. Remember catalytic converters? They have greatly reduced emissions of harmful chemicals, but not CO2.

The world has now come to the realization that climate change is real. A poll by Yale University late last year found that 73% of Americans agree. Extreme climate events in recent years have contributed to that change of opinion.

Yet the world’s dependence on fossil fuels is not receding. World demand for oil continues to grow by about 1-2% a year. CO2 emissions in the US, the second-largest polluter on the planet, are now rising again. ExxonMobil  says that global oil and gas demand will increase by 13% by 2030. It intends to spend more than $200 billion over the next seven years to develop its reserves. Continue reading →

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Dr. Scott Tinker, the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas, and the Texas’ State Geologist, produced and starred in a film a couple of years ago called Switch.  It provides an overview of how we use energy in the world and the opportunities and challenges facing our future in trying to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbons. A great film. He also created a great resource for educators about the many facets of energy, found at www.switchenergyproject.com, with multiple videos explaining every facet of energy production and use, from biofuels to environmental impacts to fracking to coal.

Dr. Tinker has released a new set of educational videos at http://www.switchenergyproject.com/education/energy-lab, on topics such as How We Make and Use Energy, How Batteries Work, Unconventional Sources of Oil, Risks of Fracking, How Solar Works, and many others, all free on his website.

Now Scott is making a sequel to Switch, called Switch On, which focuses on energy poverty. Scott emailed friends:

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Flare
My clients regularly complain of flares from wells on their property. Most leases don’t require royalty payments on flared gas, so their royalty is going up in smoke. Flares often don’t function properly, resulting in emissions of toxic gases. Flares make noise.

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallThe Environmental Defense Fund recently released an excellent report on flaring in the Permian Basin, Permian-Flaring-Report-2017.  EDF analyzed flaring and venting by 15 major producers in the Permian for the years 2014-2015. Here’s what they found (click on image to enlarge):

EDF-graph-flaring
On average, these operators flared at a rate of 3 to 4 percent of their production in these years, more than 80 Bcf of gas. At $3/mcf, that’s $240 million of gas.

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The DC Court of Appeals and the US District Court for the Northern District of California have struck down orders of the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management postponing compliance dates for the Obama administration’s rules requiring the oil and gas industry to monitor and reduce methane emissions. Both courts held that the agency’s orders were “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.  Clean Air Council, et al. v. E. Scott Pruitt, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency and Environmental Protection Agency, No. 17-1145, opinion July 3, 2017; State of California, et al. v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, et al., Case Nos. 17-cv-03804-EDL, 17-cv-388-EDL, opinion Oct. 4, 2017.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to human-caused global warming. The EPA’s rules, aimed at reducing emissions of methane from oil and gas facilities, were adopted in May 2016. They impose “new source performance standards” for finding and fixing leaks of methane in oil and gas production facilities. Those rules require operators to implement a leak monitoring plan using optical gas imaging to find and fix leaks from valves, connectors, pressure-relief devices, flanges, compressors and thief hatches on storage tanks.  The BLM issued similar rules in November 2016 to reduce waste of natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and gas production activities on Federal and Indian lands.

President Trump appointed Scott Pruitt as Administrator of EPA. Pruitt, as Attorney General of Oklahoma, sued the EPA at fourteen times on behalf of his state, attacking the EPA’s authority to regulate various industries. Pruitt rejects the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to climate change. Continue reading →

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The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) has issued a report on the environmental and community impacts of shale development in Texas. The report can be viewed on the TAMEST website. Its authors reviewed available literature on on six areas of impacts: seismicity, land, water, air, transportation, and economic and social impacts. Its authors make recommendations on further needed research and studies.

TAMEST members are the Texas-based members of the National Academies of Medicine, Engineering and Sciences, and the state’s nine Nobel Laureates. It hosts an annual conference and educational programs on key issues, and offers awards to aspiring researchers. Two years ago TAMEST organized a task force to review available research on the impacts of shale development in Texas.

Its shale report task force includes members of TAMEST and members from the oil and gas industry. The report was funded by the Cynthia and George Mitchel Foundation (“committed to promoting energy efficiency and minimizing the air and water impacts from energy production”). Each chapter of the report was authored by three of the task force members, with one of the TAMEST members serving as the lead author.

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I highly recommend a recent article by Liam Denning in Bloomberg, “Oil’s New World Disorder.” The US’s decreasing dependence on oil imports, and China and India’s increasing dependence on oil, coincide with the possible changing roles of those countries’ navies in policing oil shipping routes from the Middle East. The US currently has 50% of the world’s combined naval fleet. Should the US continue to be the policeman of the seas?

Naval power and oil have been inextricably intertwined since before World War II. Their relationship is part of the story of oil told in Daniel Yergin‘s two epic histories of the oil industry, The Quest and The Prize, both of which I highly recommend.

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A report from Texans for Public Justice, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter details the contributions made by the oil and gas industry to Texas legislatures’ campaign funds. You can find the report, Running on Hydrocarbons: Oil and Gas Funding to Every Texas Lawmaker, here: http://www.tpj.org/  No surprise. The Legislature finally passed the Texas Railroad Commission’s sunset bill, continuing the agency’s existence, after two failed attempts in prior legislative sessions. The bill contains no real reforms to how the RRC is run. There was not even any attempt to change its name.

Another report by the same group, Conflicted! Texas Railroad Commissioners ‘Self-Police” their Self-Interests, finds that 60% of Railroad Commissioners’ political contributions come from the industry. It details contributions to Commissioners by companies who had pending cases before the Commission at the time of their contributions.

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Public Citizen Texas, an environmental watchdog group, has issued its comments on the Sunset Commission’s report recommending changes at the Texas Railroad Commission. Its comments can be viewed here. The comments largely agree with the Sunset Commission’s recommendations, but in several areas recommend additional reforms. I think Public Citizen’s comments on lack of transparency are particularly appropriate:

There is an astounding lack of transparency at the RRC compared to other states. Many have searchable databases and statistics on their websites relating to inspections, complaints, and enforcement actions, by individual operator and in the aggregate. While the RRC is busy on social media putting out self-serving tweets, no useful statistics or information regarding these issues is readily available on their website. Examples of better practices:

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