Articles Posted in Energy Policy

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The Inflation Reduction Act, passed by the Senate yesterday and on its way to passage in the House, contains carrots and sticks for reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

From Inside Climate News:

One of the least discussed, but potentially most significant, climate aspects of the proposed Inflation Reduction Act is a fee it would place on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The bill would charge companies for methane that they leak or vent into the atmosphere, with the fee starting at $900 per ton in 2024 and increasing to $1500 per ton by 2026.

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I just watched a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee on efforts to reduce methane emissions from the US oil and gas industry. Four experts testified: Dr. David Lyon from Environmental Defense Fund, Riley Duren with Carbon Mapper, Dr. Brian Anderson, director of the National Environmental Technology Laboratory, par of the Department of Energy, and Dr. Greg Rieker, professor at the University of Colorado and founder of LongPath Technologies.

Some interesting highlights:

  • Methane emissions have accounted for about half of global temperature rise since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
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A great article appears in the March Section Report of the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Law section report, by Jacqueline Weaver, Professor Emeritus, University of Houston Law Center: “The Railroad Commission’s New Duties to Keep Texans Warm: Winter Storm Uri Forces Change.” Here are some excerpts:

The throughput of dry gas production from Permian Basin processing plants dropped 85% from early February to February 18, [2021] and two-thirds of the gas processing plants in the Permian Basin had outages. The natural gas industry blamed electricity suppliers for cutting off power to them when they most needed it; power generators blamed the gas industry for failing to supply gas to them. Many natural gas providers had not filed a short form with ERCOT, the grid operator for most of Texas, that would have exempted them from electric outages during emergencies. The Railroad commission seemed unaware of this form and exemption process. Clearly, the natural gas and electricity sectors needed to communicate and coordinate more closely. In the ERCOT system, natural gas provides about half of all electricity generation.

According to an FERC-NERC Staff Report on Storm Uri:

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The Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin this week issued a report, three years in the making, “Don’t Mess with Texas: Getting the Lone Star State to Net-Zero by 2050.” The study was co-authored by Vibrant Clean Energy and the University of Colorado Boulder. Funding was provided by The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the meadows Foundation, and the Catena Foundation.

The study focused on four scenarios: Business as Usual, Electrification, Electrification with Accelerated Clean Power, Hydrogen and Carriers, and Extensive Capture. The study analyzed the viability of technologies for each scenario and its impact on carbon emissions, pollutant emissions, energy efficiency, job creation, water use, and land use. Its conclusion:

Achieving net-zero is difficult, but it’s also potentially lucrative; our analysis estimates it could spur economic growth and create jobs. In each scenario, we consider the environmental, economic, and jobs impacts to Texas over the next thirty years in transitioning Texas to net-zero conditions. We compare and discuss each scenario, including BAU, to reveal key policies, technological developments, economic impacts, and environmental trade-offs across the various pathways. These scenarios are neither predictive nor prescriptive. Rather, they are illustrative. A key takeaway is that it is possible for the Lone Star State to achieve a net-zero future, and there are multiple ways of getting there. The actual path Texas takes will likely look different from any of these scenarios, but assessing the trade-offs of different pathways can provide valuable insight for the next steps to take. Scenario conditions that have an outsized influence on future emissions or are present across multiple pathways should be strongly considered in the near term as win-win decisions Texas can make now while future technology development and market conditions continue to unfold. Figure ES-2 summarizes the major impacts from each scenario.

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We’ve seen much posturing and finger-pointing from politicians on who is to blame for power failures during Winter Storm Uri last February. UT’s Austin Energy Institute has issued a report: The timeline and Events of the February 2021 Texas Electric Grid Blackouts, laying out the facts on what happened. The POWER Committee of the Austin Energy Institute, chaired by Dr. Carey King, issued this report. Dr. King does research related to how energy systems interact within the economy and environment, and how policy and social systems can made decisions and trade-offs among competing factors. The report clarifies how much the reduction in natural gas supply contributed to the disaster.

Summary from the report:

Factors contributing to the electricity blackouts of February 15-18, 2021, include the following: Continue reading →

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With the recent cold snap, we’re all remembering what we were doing last February when the lights went out.

Repercussions continue. As reported by Michell Ferman at Texas Tribune, Vistra corporation is in a dispute with Energy Transfer over its bill to Vistra for $21.6 million, for gas sold to Vistra during the freeze. Energy Transfer has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Vistra if it doesn’t pay, and Vistra has asked the Texas Railroad Commission to prevent that. Ferman writes:

During last year’s winter storm — which caused the near-total collapse of the state’s power grid, left millions without power for days and caused hundreds of deaths — Vistra spent approximately $1.5 billion for natural gas, ‘twice its planned natural gas cost to fuel its entire Texas fleet for a full year,’ the filing said. Vistra paid Energy Transfer more than $600 million during the storm, ‘which is more than 96% of all amounts invoiced by [Energy Transfer].’

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In response to substantial criticism of its original proposed rule, the Texas Railroad Commission has issued a final rule, 16 TAC Sec. 3.65, relating to designation of critical natural gas infrastructure. Well owners can no longer exempt their wells’ designation as critical infrastructure simply by filing a form and paying a $150 fee. The RRC will now itself classify gas wells, pipelines, gas plants and other natural gas facilities as critical based on its own criteria, and those facilities will be required to winterize. Gas supply facilities that require electricity to operate will be “critical customers” and are required to provide information to their electric suppliers.

The RRC will initiate a rulemaking later to adopt rules on what weatherization is required.

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Commission Shift, a non-profit advocacy organization formed “to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable to its mission,” has issued a detailed report on conflicts of interest policies at the Texas Railroad Commission and the need for reform. The report examines Commissioner Christi Craddick’s ties to the industry regulated by the RRC. Future reports will focus on the other Commissioners.

Commission Shift previously issued a critique of the RRC’s annual monitoring and enforcement plan for FY 2022, and a report on the growing orphan well problem in Texas, “Unplugged and Abandoned.” House Bill 3973, passed in the last regular legislative session, created a committee to study abandoned wells.

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A recent report from Deloitte provides a good perspective on the prospects for wind and solar electricity.

Some takeaways:

Costs of wind and solar are now competitive with coal and gas. “Power purchase agreement (PPA) prices for wind and solar power are also competitive with other resources. The weighted average US price for the first half of 2021 from auction and PPAs for solar PV is US$31/MWh, while for onshore wind it is US$37/MWh. This compares to a weighted average wholesale electricity price of about US$34/MWh across US markets during the same period.” It now costs less to build new solar and wind plants than to continue operating existing coal-fired plants. Wind and solar costs are projected to fall by half by 2030.

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After the Texas freeze last February that resulted in loss of electric service to millions of Texans, the Texas Legislature passed laws requiring the Texas Railroad Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas to address the issues raised by the systems’ failures. One of those issues was the failure of natural gas supply to electric generators. Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 3648 require the RRC to collaborate with the PUC “to adopt rules to establish a process to designate certain natural gas facilities and entities associated with providing natural gas in this state as critical customers or critical gas suppliers during energy emergencies.” In response, the RRC has proposed a new rule, 16 TAC Section 3.65. The purpose of the new law is to let the PUC know what gas infrastructure is critical to continued delivery of gas to electric utilities during an electric supply crisis so that gas supply won’t be disrupted because gas suppliers don’t have the electricity necessary to operate their systems.

As explained in the RRC’s explanation of its proposed rule, the RRC proposes to designate all gas infrastructure as “critical.” The proposed rule therefor designates as critical gas suppliers and critical customers all wells producing gas and casinghead gas, gas processing plants, gas pipelines and facilities, compressor stations, local distribution company pipelines and facilities, gas storage facilities, natural gas liquids transportation and storage facilities, saltwater disposal facilities and pipelines, and “other facilities under the jurisdiction of the Commission the operation of which is necessary to operate any of the facilities” listed above. In its comments to the proposed rule the RRC explains that all of these facilities are “necessarily critical customers of electric entities during an energy emergency.”

The Commission chooses to include these facility types, located up and down the entire natural gas supply chain, because the statistics from Winter Storm Uri reveal that during the storm, every molecule of natural gas was important. … Each piece of the supply chain included in [the list of critical customers] contributes to the delivery of gas downstream. If one piece of the supply chain cannot operate, then the gas cannot be delivered for electric generation or other important uses. Further, daily gas production alone many not be adequate for peak demand during a weather emergency, which makes gas storage an important source of natural gas. Thus, natural gas storage facilities are included ….

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