“4 Ways Election Results Could Intensify U.S. Energy Battles” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

After November’s midterm elections and the newly elected Republican majority in the both houses of Congress, President Obama might have a difficult time moving forward with his climate policy agenda. Now there’s a chance that Republicans will obstruct the EPA‘s funding so that it won’t be able to enact its proposed regulations of curbing power plants emissions. Meanwhile, we might get closer to authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and repealing our 1970s crude oil export ban. Only a few days before the elections, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change issued another report with grave warnings about the effects of climate change.

One method that Republicans can employ to hinder the Obama administration is with a joint congressional resolution of disapproval, which asks for a majority vote in favor of blocking proposed regulations. However, in order to advance their own bills, Republicans need 60 votes to stop filibusters by Senate Democrats, or a two-thirds majority to quash any of Obama’s vetoes.

Though those odds might seem unlikely, the Republicans can still play a huge hand in climate policy and the energy debate by:

  1. Further Opposing the EPA‘s Power Plant Regulations
    Previously, climate activist and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; however, now the position will transfer to Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK), a staunch climate denier and author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.That title itself says it all. Inhofe is staunchly again the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. So it’s reasonable to assume that his goal — along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is to block funding for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, where the EPA’s goal is to reduce existing power plants’ emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

  2. Advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
    Another one of McConnell’s targets is the Keystone XL Pipeline — he would do whatever possible to advance the project, including strategizing a plan that would make sure the legislation would end up on Obama’s desk. Obama would then have to either approve the pipeline or use his veto power.Obama is more likely to approve the pipeline if it has no impact on emissions; according to the State Department, Keystone will not increase emissions.
  3. Increasing Fossil Fuel Exports
    Republicans are now more motivated than ever to end the circa-1970s crude oil export ban that was authorized amid the Arab oil embargo. So far, the Department of Energy has already authorized a few projects that would allow the US to export natural gas, but Republicans would like to push more through.Many Republicans and those in the oil industry contend that exporting crude could push gas prices down even more. Environmentalists assert that repealing the ban might prompt the US to generate more oil, at the cost of the environment.
  4. Introducing a Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill
    Republican Senator Rob Portman (OH) and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) have created a bipartisan bill that advocates for energy efficiency in many spheres, including residential, commercial, and federal buildings. The bill tried to get through the Senate in 2014, but was unable to because of the debate around Keystone. The bill will have another go, but might very well be blocked by Republicans who don’t support implementing rules that require stronger efficiency guidelines for appliances.

(From National Geographic)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 26, 2015

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“Obama Floats Offering First-Ever Drilling Lease in Atlantic” – AP, 27 January 2015

President Obama has introduced a plan that would allow drilling in parts of the Atlantic Coast, while simultaneously putting an end to any drilling in certain areas in Alaska.

The administration’s proposal concentrates on Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and will sell areas 50 miles off the states’ coasts to oil companies beginning in 2021. Oil companies have been denied access to these areas in the Atlantic Ocean for years, particularly since drilling in those areas was banned in 2008. Additionally, the proposal includes leases for regions in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Leases will be sold between 2017 and 2022.

Many politicians cited the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a reason not to move forward with the proposal, which remains the biggest oil spill of its kind in the US. Since then, regulations on offshore drilling have not improved; Congress has yet to adopt new laws that would make drilling safer. Many believe that drilling in these regions is a misguided way of developing energy — and acquiring energy independence — in the US.

However, politicians in the Southeastern states are backing Obama’s plan, asserting that the new venture will boost the economy by creating jobs and encouraging investments. Currently, the US is experiencing a flood in oil, which has caused oil and gas prices to significantly drop.

Areas chosen to be leased and sold are subject to change. Oil generation from offshore drilling supplies 16 percent of the US’s oil. In order to find oil and gas deposits under the ocean, firms will have to run seismic imaging surveys; a process that can take years, the firms attach seismic air guns to their boats that they will drag for miles on the ocean surface. The guns then radiate air and sound, which assists in mapping 2D and 3D images of the ocean floor.

(From Associated Press)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 28, 2015

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“Making CO2 an Energy Asset” – Wall Street Journal, 16 July 2014

Though carbon dioxide has had a disastrous impact on our environment, the energy industry can actually use it for some good: inserting CO2 into oil fields actually boosts oil production.

Coal-burning power plants emit man-made CO2 into the air, and oil drillers typically find their CO2 underground caverns or industrial facilities. However, New York-based electricity manufacturer NRG Energy Inc. is aiming to do things a little differently. NRG’s new strategy is to trap CO2 emitted from one of its Houston coal-fired plants and siphon the CO2 to a nearby oil field. NRG and its Japanese partner JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. will be given half the extra output. The project is hoped to be finished by 2016.

NRG, JX Nippon, and the US Energy Department are spearheading the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, with the aim to simultaneously decrease pollution from coal-burning plants while increasing oil output.

Yet, it’s an expensive process, and many utilities’ participation in carbon capture has been unfavorable. Atlanta-based Southern Co. is wrapping up on a Mississippi power plant that will transform coal into combustible gas while also ridding the gas of pollutants, like CO2. It’s costing the company $5.5 billion, the priciest coal plant in the US.

Another method where the industry has tried, and failed, is ridding flue gases of carbon after the coal has been used. Part of the process is selling the CO2, but carbon has never sold for enough to rationalize the effort and money used to strip the carbon in the first place. Adapting a coal-fired power plant to new technology is more expensive than building a new gas-fired power plant.

NRG’s project will be different, because instead of selling carbon, the project aims to make a profit from selling the supplementary oil. The CO2 that NRG will funnel into the oil field is predicted to increase oil generation by 10,000 barrels per day — from its current 500 barrels to 15,000 barrels.

When additional CO2 is introduced in underground oil reservoirs, the gas forces the remaining crude to rise to the surface. Overall, the DOE expects that oil production will expand to 360,000 barrels per day in 2020, and 580,000 in 2030.

A majority of the CO2 used to pump oil out of reservoirs originates from underground caverns and other natural formations, and industrial projects. A bulk of our man-made CO2 comes from the power industry, which uses a lot of coal since it’s a cheap source of power. The power industry is also our largest unused CO2 supplier; there might be a bright future for NRG’s project after all.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 23, 2015

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“GOP oil titan: Keystone’s irrelevant” – Politico, 14 November 2014

Though the Keystone XL pipeline has been a hot-button issue with environmentalists, it seems that it has become an irrelevant discussion. The pipeline was introduced in 2005, and still no decision has been made about its construction. In October, the House approved a bill that would authorize the pipeline; however, a few days later, the bill failed to pass through the Senate. If it had passed, the bill would have gone directly to President Obama, though it’s likely he would have vetoed it.

But all that might change when the new Republican-majority Congress reconvenes in January. In fact, it has become the mission of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell (KY) to have the bill pass. It’s probable that the bill will pass both Congress legislatures, but the bill will need 67 votes in favor in order to quash a presidential veto.

Regardless of the pipeline’s importance, proponents firmly contend that the $8 billion pipeline will allow for a flood of new jobs and bolster North American energy independence; but opponents believe that it will increase fossil fuels and further incite the effects of climate change.

It seems like the oil industry has moved on from Keystone; oil companies are employing other pipelines to carry their oil. Furthermore, the US now has an abundance of oil, which has reduced prices. Bringing more oil in from Canada doesn’t seem like the best plan.

What some suggest — like Harold Hamm, the CEO of Oklahoma’s Continental Resources — is that the US should end its crude oil export ban, which would make the oil market fairer for US oil companies. Congress imposed the ban in the 1970s due to the worry that we were becoming too reliant on foreign oil. Now that US oil prices have dropped, Saudi Arabia is attempting to undercut our prices so that it can recover what it has lost in the market. Further, a lift on the ban could help Ukraine and European countries that are under the thumb of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Conversely, if the ban is lifted, we could see gas prices soar; lawmakers would become our scapegoat.

(From Politico)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 29, 2014

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