From fracking to flatulence: the all-out assault on methane

Commentary by Marita Noon

What is the “biggest unfinished business for the Obama administration?” According to a report from Bill McKibben, the outspoken climate alarmist who calls for all fossil fuels to be kept in the ground, it is “to establish tight rules on methane emissions” – emissions that he blames on the “rapid spread of fracking.”

McKibben calls methane emissions a “disaster.” He claims “methane is much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide” and that it does more damage to the climate than coal. Methane, CH4, is the primary component of natural gas.

Apparently, his progressive friends in California agree, as they are now, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ): “seeking to curb the natural gas emanating from dairy farms” – more specifically cow manure and flatulence. The August 12 editorial says that the California Air Resources Board “suggests that dairy farms purchase technology to capture methane and then sell the biogas to customers.” It acknowledges that the supposed cure would only be cost-effective with “substantial government subsidies and regulatory credits.” WSJ points out that while California’s proposed regulations might produce the “least GHG intensive” gallon of milk in the world, it would also be the “most expensive.”

To buttress his anti-fracking argument, McKibben is selective on which studies he cites. He starts with a paper from “Harvard researchers” that shows increased methane emissions between 2002 and 2014 but doesn’t pinpoint the source of the methane. He, then, relies heavily on “a series of papers” from known fracking opponents: Cornell scientists Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea. Within his report, McKibben mentions Howarth’s bias, but, I believe, intentionally never mentions Ingraffea’s. Earlier this year, in sworn testimony, Ingraffea admitted he’d be lying if he said that every one of his papers on shale gas was “entirely objective.” Additionally, a group that Ingraffa co-founded and for which he serves as Board Chair, Emeritus: Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, received, at least, tens of thousands of dollars in coordination with wealthy foundations to support the broad movement of opposition to shale gas drilling.

Because of bias, McKibben claims to reach out to an “impeccably moderate referee”: Dan Lashof. Mckibben then goes on to report on Lashof as having been “in the inner circles of climate policy almost since it began.” In addition to writing reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and crafting Obama’s plan to cut “coal plant pollution,” Lashof was the “longtime head of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council” and he now serves as COO for “billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America.” Lashof is hardly an “impeccably moderate referee.”

Because McKibben goes to great lengths trying to appear balanced in his conclusions, a casual reader of his report might think the research cited is all there is and, therefore, agree with his cataclysmic views. Fortunately, as a just-released paper makes clear, much more research needs to be considered before cementing public policy, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s “tight rules on methane emissions.”

In the 28 peer-reviewed pages (with nearly 70 footnotes) of Bill McKibben’s terrifying disregard for fracking facts, Isaac Orr, research fellow for energy and environment policy at The Heartland Institute, states: “Although McKibben – a journalist, not a scientist – accurately identifies methane as being exceptionally good at capturing heat in Earth’s atmosphere, his ‘the-sky-is-falling’ analysis is based on cherry-picking data useful to his cause, selectively interpreting the results of other studies, ignoring contradicting data, and failing to acknowledge the real uncertainties in our understanding of how much methane is entering the atmosphere. In the end, methane emissions aren’t nearly as terrifying as McKibben claims.”

In the Heartland Institute Policy Brief, Orr explains why it has been difficult to achieve consistent readings on methane emissions: “Tools have been developed only recently to measure accurately methane emissions, with new and better equipment progressively replacing less perfect methods.” He then details the various methods:

  • Direct measurement of emissions, on-site, identifies methane emissions from specific sources;
  • Ambient Air Monitoring uses aerial surveys, allows large areas to be surveyed, with results affected by uncertainties;
  • Life-Cycle Analyses draw on multiple sources to provide an integrated measure of emissions from the entire natural gas value chain; and
  • Meta-Analyses combine the results of multiple studies using different methodologies or databases to search for overarching trends, recurring facts, and robust findings.

Throughout the section on methodology, Orr draws attention to the results of the various techniques – which he says shows “great uncertainty about how much methane is entering the atmosphere, how much is produced by oil-and-natural gas production, and how emissions can be managed in the future.” He also points out that more than 75 studies examining methane emissions from oil and gas systems have been done, yet “McKibben chose an outdated study [Howarth/Ingraffea] that used unrealistic assumptions and reached inaccurate conclusions.” Additionally: “Natural gas producers have a powerful economic motive to reduce methane leakage and use technologies that capture methane emissions during the drilling and well completion phase.”

Orr calls McKibben’s assertions that methane emissions are from the oil-and-gas sector: “simplistic” and “inappropriate.” Regarding the Harvard study, he explains: “Estimating the contributions from different source types and regions is difficult because there are many different sources of methane, and those sources overlap in the same spatial area. For example, methane is produced naturally in wetlands – and it is worth noting that environmentalists support ‘restoring’ wetlands despite the increases in methane emissions this would cause. Methane also is produced by agriculture through growing rice and raising livestock, fast-growing activities in developing countries. This makes it difficult to calculate exactly where methane is coming from and what sources should be controlled.”

Based on McKibben’s approach, other sections of The Heartland report include: Methane and Global Warming, Repeating Gasland Falsehoods, and What’s the Fracking Alternative – with the latter being my favorite.

Because McKibben’s ultimate goal is to keep fossil fuels in the ground, he goes to great lengths to support how wind and solar – the fracking alternatives – have progressed (an argument that Orr takes apart). However, a careful read of McKibben’s version of the story reveals that he acknowledges that his preferred energy sources are uneconomic. Within his report, McKibben admits that fracking has “brought online new shale deposits across the continent.” He sarcastically derides politicians who viewed fracking as a win-win situation by suggesting they were cynically saying they “could appease the environmentalists with their incessant yammering about climate change without having to run up the cost of electricity.”

McKibben even attacks President Obama’s support of natural gas – made abundant thanks to the companion technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. (He’s not too happy with Secretary Clinton’s efforts either.) Here are a few of the key phrases McKibben uses in that paragraph: (Note: McKibben sees these as negatives.)

  • “The fracking boom offered one of the few economic bright spots”;
  • “Manufacturing jobs were actually returning from overseas, attracted by newly abundant energy”; and
  • “The tool that made restrictions on coal palatable.”

Combine these McKibben statements and he is clearly aware that his plan will take away one of the few economic bright spots; that due to higher priced electricity, manufacturing jobs will leave our shores; and coal regulations will be unpalatable. While McKibben touts the oft-mentioned line about Denmark generating 42 percent of its power from wind, Orr reminds us that the figure only accounts for electricity – not total energy. When factoring in all of Denmark’s energy consumption, wind, solar, and geothermal only account for 5 percent of the energy mix and, as Orr explains, Denmark has the highest electricity rates in Europe and is still dependent on fossil fuels for the vast majority of its energy.

I am often asked why the anti-fossil fuel crowd has so recently turned against the decades-old technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has provided such economic and environmental benefits and has become even safer due to ever-increasing advances. In his report, McKibben states what is essentially the answer I often give: “One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables.” It has upset the entire world-view of people like McKibben who’d banked on oil and natural gas being scarce – and therefore expensive. In that paradigm, wind and solar power would be the saviors. Now they are an expensive redundancy.

Worrying about whether methane emissions come from oil-and-gas activities, from agriculture, such as cow flatulence or rice farming, or from naturally occurring seeps may seem irrelevant to the average energy consumer’s day. However, when you consider that long-term, expensive public policy is being based on this topic, it is important to be informed fairly and accurately – and to communicate with your elected officials accordingly.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

The few, the loud, the anti-fossil fuel crowd

Commentary by Marita Noon

If you get your news from the mainstream media, you likely think the views expressed by the environmental activists represent the majority of Americans. After all, their highly visible protests against the Keystone pipeline – sit-ins in front of the White House, locking themselves to the White House fence and then being arrested for it, and parading down the National Mall carrying a huge inflated tube emblazoned with the words: “Just say no to Keystone” – were effective. Despite repeated polling that showed a majority of Americans supported the pipeline, with a small minority opposed, the loud theatrics of the anti-fossil fuel crowd eventually won out. After years of stall tactics, President Obama finally bowed to their demands and said no to the job-creating infrastructure project.

Earlier this year, the usual group of suspects, led by well-known anti-fracking activist Bill McKibben, planned a “global wave of resistance” called BreakFree2016 - scheduled to take place from May 3-15 – on six continents. The event’s website announced the various activities, including an appearance and speech by McKibben, a Vermont resident, at the Colorado rally that promised: the “largest mass mobilizations for climate action in the history of Colorado.” It confirmed that there would be “civil disobedience.”

Did you hear about it? Probably not.

A news report of the planned Colorado activities said: “And on May 14, 350 Colorado is planning a day of speeches, live music and activities protesting oil and gas developments close to neighborhoods and schools in Thornton. The goal is to draw 1,000 people to the upcoming events.” The website, post-event, states: “about 800 people joined the action throughout the day” with “about 30-40 people” still there at the end of the day for the dramatic “frack-site” invasion. Yet, as even their own Facebook page photos indicate, not even 100 were present for the big McKibben speech. Without vendors and media, he may have had no audience at all.

After flying in to Denver, and then being driven to the protest site in a limousine, McKibben jetted off to Los Angeles, California, where he was joined by the greens’ “Daddy Warbucks,” billionaire political campaign donor Tom Steyer – with much the same results: a few hundred protesting fossil fuels and, as Energy In Depth reported, “the very social and economic underpinnings of liberal democracy.” The typical anti-everything protestors were present – but only a few.

In Iowa, as I addressed last week, a meeting of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition – which according to the organizer includes those with “concerns about the impact it could have on the environment, farmers who worry about their cropland and religious groups who view expanding use of fossil fuels as a moral issue because of climate change” – expected a crowd of 200. Instead, according to the Ottumwa Courier, “only 40 or so were seated when the meeting began. Others trickled in as the meeting progressed.”

Now, Colorado is ground zero for “one of the biggest environmental fights in the country this year,” as Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director for Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for safety in food production and oil and gas production, called it. Two ballot initiatives, 75 and 78, have the potential to, according to Colorado regulators, “effectively halt new oil and gas development in as much as 90 percent of the state.” In order to get the initiatives on the ballot, 98,492 valid signatures needed to be turned into the Colorado Secretary of State by August 8 – no later than 3:00 p.m.

In June, The Tribune reported that Tricia Olson, who has pumped in most of the funding for a group backing initiatives 75 and 78, hoped to “collect 160,000 signatures to account for the invalid signatures that inevitably pop up.” (Politico just announced: “recent campaign finance reports were filed with the Colorado secretary of state, the Sierra Club gave $150,000, making it the largest single reported contributor to the anti-fracking effort.”)

Because the Colorado Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on May 2, declared local fracking limits “invalid and unenforceable,” as state law trumps local ordinances, Olson sees the ballot initiatives as their “last ditch effort.”

On Monday, August 8, exercising stagecraft, at 2:30 p.m., dozens of supporters emptied a U-Haul truck and delivered box after box of signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. They celebrated their “victory.” 350 Colorado, one of the groups behind the measures, proclaimed: “We did it! Over 100,000 signatures delivered on initiatives to limit fracking!” – not the 160,000 originally hoped for, and likely not enough to get on the ballot in November.

By CBS Denver’s accounting about 105,000 signatures were turned in – most in half empty boxes. Lynn Bartels, Colorado Secretary of State Communications Director, tweeted: “Proponents of fracking measures turned in lots of boxes with very few petitions in them.” Once the petitions were consolidated, there were roughly 50 empty boxes. Simon Lomax, an associate energy policy analyst with the conservative Independence Institute in Denver and a consultant who advises pro-business groups, said: “To make it look more impressive they added a bunch of empty boxes, or boxes with very few petitions. It just sort of shows, these groups don’t do substance, they just do deceptive publicity stunts.”

On CBS Denver, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler explained that since you need about 98,000 signatures to get on the ballot because, for a variety of reasons, at least 30 percent are rejected, you need to submit at least 140,000. He says that for the 105,000 signatures turned in to qualify would be “unprecedented,” something that “has never occurred in Colorado for a ballot initiative.” According to Gessler, the effort is “doomed” – though we will not know for sure until next month when the final counts are released.

Noted election reporter and national affairs columnist for the National Review, John Fund, told me: “If there is enough public support for an issue to get the votes needed to pass, getting a surplus of signatures to get it on the ballot is an easy task.”

Many Democrats, including Governor John Hickenlooper, support hydraulic fracturing and have come out against the ballot initiatives. Politico posits that because mainstream environmentalists “fear that their movement will suffer a demoralizing defeat if the two proposals make it in front of the voters,” they “hope the ballot initiatives will die instead.”  Additionally, “A decisive referendum on oil and gas production would increase calls for [Hillary] Clinton to explicitly take a side.” She’s previously aligned with 75 and 78 – which could spoil her attempts to attract moderate Republicans she’ll need to win the state.

Despite their drama and declared “victory,” it doesn’t seem that the Colorado anti-fossil fuel crowd has enough signatures, or support, to make it onto the November ballot. They may be loud, but, alas, they are few.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

The pipeline’s approved. Environmentalists are angry.

Commentary by Marita Noon

Final federal approval for what is being called the “new Keystone” came from the Army Corps of Engineers on July 26 – allowing the pipeline to move forward. The 1,168-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), also called the Bakken Pipeline, is comparable in length to the Keystone XL. It will cross four states and carry 450,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota to a transfer terminal in Illinois where it will connect with other pipelines and be taken to refineries.

The $3.8 billion dollar project has pitted environmentalists against economic interests.

During the Keystone fight, outspoken opponent Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, said: “In America we should be focused on making sure that the oil in North Dakota, Oklahoma, and others, in Montana, that that oil is getting to market.” Now, thanks to DAPL, America’s oil will have a safer way to get “to market” – freeing up as many as 750 train cars a day to transport corn, soybeans, and grain. However, as soon as DAPL came on the scene, they moved the marker, and environmental opposition was mounted. Bold Iowa, a group that shares a website with Kleeb’s Bold Nebraska, says it has members willing to risk arrest in “nonviolent protests.” They are also training monitors to report any environmental violations or hazards.

On August 1, nine pieces of heavy equipment – excavators and bulldozers – were set on fire at three different DAPL construction sites, causing $3 million in damage. At the time of this writing, no arrests have been made. Additionally, protestors have gathered on the grounds of the North Dakota Capitol, calling for Governor Jack Dalrymple and legislators to put a halt to construction of the pipeline until their lawsuits are addressed.

On its “Stop the Bakken Pipeline” page, the Iowa Sierra Club posted: “A new pipeline will delay the US transition to clean and renewable energy and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The United States needs to move away from fossil fuel extractions and to energy sources that have less impact on climate change.”

The Club’s position sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton’s. When she finally came out against Keystone, she said: “We need to be transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy.” She called the pipeline “a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change.”

Opposition, however, is not as broad-based as the environmental groups had hoped for. At an April meeting of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition in Iowa, organizers were disappointed. Chairs were set up for 200, but only about 40 “trickled in.” In the four states the pipeline will cross, more than 90 percent, on average, of the landowners signed the voluntary easement agreements.

At its peak, the DAPL’s construction is expected to involve as many as 4,000 workers in each state and will require the purchase of $200 million in American-made heavy construction and related equipment from Caterpillar, Deere, and Vermeer.

Cory Bryson, Business Agent for Laborers Local 563 reports: “We’ve been inundated with calls from all over the country from people wanting to work on this pipeline project. Mainline pipeline projects like Dakota Access provide excellent working opportunities for our members and tremendous wages. The Laborers excel at this work.” No wonder men and women want to travel to the pipeline’s locale, some workers, most without college degrees, brag about banking $2,000-5,000 a week.

In Illinois, the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce has assembled hundreds of packets with information including restaurants, health-care facilities, RV sites, and laundromats. Executive Director Lisa Musch reports that her office has been receiving calls for months from people looking for rental properties. Teriann Gutierrez, owner of Buena Vista Farms, a resort-campground, and a retired plastics engineer, says: “I’ve been full since the beginning of April.” She told me the boost in population is bringing a lot of money into the community that has been hit hard with the loss of manufacturing jobs. DAPL is putting a lot of local people to work. Gutierrez is very thankful as the boom means she’ll be able to pay down debt.

“Like any major construction project, the DAPL will create, and more importantly maintain, high paying American jobs throughout the supply chain and throughout the nation,” North Dakota’s at-large Congressman Kevin Cramer said. “I’ve seen the crews that work on building the line and they take great pride in their craft. They spend money in local, usually rural, communities throughout the route. The steel suppliers and equipment manufacturers and distributors are just a few of the links in the chain. Everybody from fry cooks to hotel owners to financers are affected. Perhaps, most importantly, in a low price crude market, the economics of moving oil by the most efficient and safe manner possible preserves jobs on the production side of the equation as well.”

While DAPL is already creating lots of jobs, it is just one of many pipeline projects in the works that could be bringing much needed economic development to other communities and high-paying jobs for American workers. Gutierrez explained that, according to the workers staying at Buena Vista Farms: “The hardest thing is getting the permits. The long process holds up jobs.” Apparently, many of them made reservations but, then, had to delay them – and delay starting to work on the pipeline – because the permits hadn’t been approved as expected. It doesn’t have to be that way. Under President Obama, permitting for oil-and-gas activity has been slow-walked. Jobs have been held up.

Donald Trump has made clear that he’ll support pipelines and said he’ll invite TransCanada to reapply for the Keystone permit. On the other side, Clinton opposed Keystone and supports moving away from fossil fuels. Secretary of State John Kerry, Clinton’s successor, has implied that with “some 300 pipelines” we really don’t need any more. He said: “it’s not as if we’re pipeline-less.” A Clinton administration would likely extend the Obama delay tactic.

Whichever candidate wins in November will appoint agency heads who support his or her views – thus driving the policy direction.

Like Gutierrez, union members are grateful for the jobs. Last week, Dave Barnett, Pipeline Representative for the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, told me: “We are pleased that the thousands of job opportunities associated with these projects are being decided on their need and merits, not on political pressures by extremists as the Keystone XL was.”

Whether the thousands of additional job opportunities materialize depends on American voters. Will we vote for pipelines that fuel the American economy and transport our natural resources safely and cheaply? Or, will we block job creation and economic development by voting with the environmentalists who want to “keep it in the ground?” In less than 100 days, we’ll have the answer to these important questions.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Trump: making America’s energy policy cheaper, faster, and better

Commentary by Marita Noon

Editor’s note: by Marita’s request – and so as not to come in the midst of other upcoming content from her – I’m posting this a day earlier than Marita’s normal Tuesday morning slot.

The name Donald Trump will occupy the news cycle during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Other than comments from oil entrepreneur Harold Hamm, energy won’t be a huge topic on the stage – though it does hold a spot on the newly approved Republican Platform and has a starring role in Trump’s plan to “make America great again.”

Trump calls it “An America First Energy Plan.” In it, he calls for “American energy dominance,” which he sees as a strategic, economic, and foreign policy goal. Like every recent president before him, he seeks “American energy independence” – which he defines as being “independent of any need to import energy from the OPEC cartel or any nations hostile to our interests.” According to his energy adviser, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), this acknowledges that we will still use oil from our friends like Canada and Mexico and that, for example, due to refinery configurations, there will likely continue to be oil imports and exports. The thing to note is that we will not need to, not have to, do business with those who are hostile toward America.

He understands that our amazing American energy resources offer the United States tremendous wealth and economic advantage. In his May 26 speech in North Dakota, addressing untapped oil and gas reserves on federal lands, Trump exclaimed: “We have no idea how rich we are. We want to cherish that wealth.” In comparison, he pointed out that Hillary Clinton wants to lock up “trillions in American wealth” while her “poverty-expansion agenda” enriches her friends and makes everyone else poor. (Be sure to read more about Hillary enriching her friends in my column next week.) In the speech, Trump pointed out to the audience, largely made up of people from the oil and agriculture industries: “If Crooked Hillary can shut down the mines, she can shut down your business, too.”

His America First Energy Plan calls for a redirection of our energy agenda. Overall, Trump will move away from government-central planning efforts and return authority back to the states – an idea that has made it into the Republican Platform. His plan has three main components. Under a Trump administration there will be big changes in climate policy, regulations, and the management of federal lands.

Climate policy

While Trump is known to have called climate change “a hoax,” and has declared that he will not allow “political activists with extreme agendas” to write the rules, he is a true environmentalist. Coming from New York City where the only “nature” is Central Park, he has a heart for the environment. Cramer told me Trump holds a typical “Manhattan view of the West:” clean air, green space, and nature are precious. In his energy speech, Trump announced his environmental policy: “my priorities are very simple: clean air and clean water.” A Trump administration “will work with conservationists whose only agenda is protecting nature.”

In his “100-day action plan,” Trump says he’ll rescind the Climate Action Plan – which “gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use.”

[Note: this foreign control over energy use was a key component in the Brexit vote - as I wrote a few weeks ago. Since then, Theresa May, the UK’s new Prime Minister, who last week announced: "I want to see an energy policy that emphasises the reliability of supply and lower costs for users," has scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change and replaced it with a new Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. With a President Trump, we can expect similar action.]

Trump has pledged to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payment of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” He says such policies are evidence of America bending to benefit other nations at a cost to the U.S. Once the “draconian climate rules” are eliminated there is no rationale for imposing a “job-killing cap-and-trade” scheme or to keep extending the subsidies for wind and solar. He is not opposed to wind and solar energy, and in fact, wants to “get bureaucracy out of the way of innovation so we can pursue all forms of energy,” but he doesn’t support the idea of “the government picking winners and losers.” Like other energy sources, once the subsidies expire, the wind and solar industry would benefit from typical business tax deductions and deferments.

Regulations

Trump’s agenda calls for “Regulation reform that eliminates stupid rules that send our jobs overseas.” He knows that “costly regulation makes it harder and harder to turn a profit.”

In his speech, he accused the Environmental Protection Agency of “totalitarian tactics” and pointed out the current enforcement disparity: “The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against seven North Dakota oil companies for the deaths of 28 birds while the Administration fast-tracked wind projects that kill more than 1 million birds a year.”

Cramer told me we can expect Trump to roll back a lot of Obama’s regulatory overreach and take a different approach toward rules, like the Waters of the U.S. and the Clean Power Plan, that are currently under a court-ordered stay.

Coal miners have come out en masse for Trump because of his promise to “save the coal industry.” I asked Cramer how Trump planned to do that. He told me that while coal-fueled power plants that have already been shut down or converted to natural gas will not likely be reopened, a Trump administration can save what’s left and stop the bleeding by not artificially punishing the industry through regulation.

On July 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2017 Department of Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. It provides an example of actions we can expect from a President Trump. Cramer says if this bill were to make it to Trump’s desk, he would sign it. Some of the bill’s provisions include:

  • Prohibiting the EPA from implementing new greenhouse gas regulations for new and existing power plants,
  • Prohibiting harmful changes to the “stream buffer rule” or making changes to the definition of “fill material” negatively impacting coal-mining operations, and
  • Requiring a report on the backlog of mining permits awaiting approval.

Additionally, the bill cuts funding for regulatory agencies – “a decrease of $64 million from last year’s budget and $1 billion below the President’s request.”

While the Obama Administration has issued near fatal regulations on the coal industry (which Hillary would take even further), other countries are using more coal. On July 11, the Financial Times announced that prices for coal surged on increasing demand in China.

In short, Trump explained: “Any future regulation will go through a simple test: is this regulation good for the American worker? If it doesn’t pass this test, the rule will not be approved.”

Federal Lands

In his speech, Trump reminded people that President Obama has halted leasing for new coal mines on federal lands and aggressively blocked the production of oil and natural gas by closing down leases and putting reserves off limits. He pointed out that these resources are an American treasure and that the American people are entitled to share in the riches.

One of the ways Americans will benefit from the riches of our natural resources is through a designated fund that, much like many natural resource states already do, will put a portion of the revenues directly into rebuilding roads, schools, and public infrastructure.

As a part of his 100-day action plan, Trump has promised to “lift moratoriums on energy production on federal areas.” Instead of slow-walking permits or being passive-aggressive with the permitting process, he’ll order agencies to expedite exploration, drilling, and mining permits.

Trump has said he intends to “trust local officials and local residents.” This idea will be played out in his approach to the management of federal lands – which Cramer explained will be more of a state and federal partnership where states will have a much greater say regarding their land use. This includes the regulation of hydraulic fracturing. In a blow to the Obama administration’s overreach, a federal court recently affirmed that the regulation of the technology is the jurisdiction of the states – not the Federal Bureau of Land Management.

We’ll see this same philosophy played out in the designation of national monuments – something the Obama administration has abused by turning the ability to designate national monuments into a land grab. His monument designations often prevent productive use of the federal lands – such as agriculture or mineral extraction. The GOP platform committee adopted language that empowers states to retain control over lands within their borders. New monuments will “require the approval of the state where the national monument is designated or the national park is proposed.” As a result, Cramer told me: “We will not see a lot of new federal lands.”

There are two additional important energy items to note. First, Trump would “ask TransCanada to renew its permit application for the Keystone pipeline” – which would be built by American workers. Second, Trump has long been a supporter of nuclear power.

Trump’s energy plan is a turn toward realism. It is based on the fact that our American energy abundance can allow for shared prosperity, better schools, more funding for infrastructure, higher wages, and lower unemployment. Isn’t that what making America great again is all about?

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

El Niño, La Niña and natural gas

July 12, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

Death Valley, California, is known as “the hottest place on earth.” But, if you hear the news that the “Hottest Place on Earth Has Record-Breaking Hot June” – when “temperatures exceeded average June temperatures by about 6 °F” – it might be easy to ascribe the heat to alarmist claims of climate change. While Southern California was experiencing power outages due to a heat wave, Death Valley hit 126 °F – though the previous June high was 129 °F on June 30, 2013, and Death Valley holds the highest officially recorded temperature on the planet: 134 °F on July 10, 1913.

Yes, it is a hot summer for most of the U.S. – but that was predicted by WeatherBELL’s Joe Bastardi who, on Groundhog Day, referenced El Niño and said: “we may have the hottest summer since 2012.” Dr. Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, explains: “it is usually the second calendar year of an El Niño event that is the warmest.” The current El Niño event made 2015 “the 3rd warmest year in the satellite record” – records, which have been kept for 38 years (all three of the hottest years were during an El Niño event). The 2015-16 El Niño is one of the strongest on record.

El Niño is a natural weather pattern first discovered centuries ago by Peruvian fisherman who noticed that the ocean would often warm late in the year. They called the phenomenon El Niño, after the Christ Child. “Modern researchers,” according to Bloomberg, “came to realize its importance to global weather in the 1960s, when they recognized the link between warm surface water and corresponding atmospheric changes.”

El Niño usually means warmer or milder winters and cooler summers in the U.S. – which has been bad for producers of America’s natural gas, as less has been needed for heating and air conditioning. Describing the winter of 2015-16, one account said: “warm, wet or even ‘what winter?’” This past winter’s milder temperatures coincided with abundant output from shale formations, that continued to grow through last winter, and, as reported by Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI): “collapsed natural gas prices to the lowest levels since 1999.” As a result, wholesale electricity prices also tumbled.

The trend away from coal for power generation has previously helped natural gas producers, as the increased production easily met strengthening demand. However, that demand has slowed as, according to NGI: “most U.S. regions that could switch out of coal on economic terms have already done so.”

While the warmer winter and oversupply condition coincided to drive natural gas prices to their lowest levels in almost 17 years, weather and supply are now driving them back up.

El Niño patterns are usually followed by what is called La Niña – which happens as the ocean temperatures cool. La Niña generally takes place three months, or as much as twelve months, after an El Niño cycle. A report from CNBC, back in January, projected that this year’s El Niño would “fade by May-July” – which is what we are seeing and that is causing the hotter, drier summer. The Browning World Climate Bulletin says: “The factors that cooled so much of North America in April and May are retreating and the hot marine air masses will surge inland.” Likewise, NGI States: “The El Niño event that led to record North American winter temperatures has made way for the transition to La Niña, which usually results in hotter-than-normal summer temperatures.”

Addressing these weather patterns, Bloomberg cites Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, as saying: “The cycles occur every two or three years on average and help regulate the temperature of the Earth, as the equatorial Pacific absorbs the heat of the sun during the El Niño and then releases it into the atmosphere. That can create a La Niña: a ‘recharge state’ when ‘the whole Earth is cooler than it was before this started.’”

While experts differ on the exact timing, most expect La Niña to form as early as July or as late as December – or even January. Trenberth explains: “La Niña is more like a strong case of ‘normal.’ If a region is typically dry, it could become arid in a La Niña. If it’s usually wet, there may be floods.” Which translates to a colder, and more volatile, than average winter – though predictions are for drier and warmer in the southwest U.S. Reports indicate that a strong La Niña could push more polar vortexes down into the U.S. and typically a strong El Niño, as we’ve just experienced, is followed by a strong La Niña.

On June 29, the Financial Times announced: “US natural gas prices have leapt 30 per cent this month as hot weather boost demand for air-conditioning and slowing supplies point to a gradually tightening market.” It adds: “After years with prices in the doldrums, US gas output has also begun to level off.”

The hot summer, according to Bastardi, will continue with widespread warmth through the fall – with the Northeast and Midwest possibly hitting 90 °F into October. Then, going from one extreme to the other, when winter hits, it is expected to be, as previously addressed, colder-than-normal across the Northwest, Upper Midwest, and Northeast.

These conditions create higher cooling and heating demand for natural gas. And that, coinciding with reduced supply, will give a boost to U.S. natural gas prices – rebalancing the market and bringing price recovery.

For investors, Bloomberg states: “Seeing as North American Winters are expecting to be stronger with La Niña, SocGen [Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking] recommends investing in natural gas.” The Price Group’s Phil Flynn, seen daily on the Fox Business Network, concurs. He told me that in the rush to convert electricity generation to natural gas, we are now in a place, unlike the winter of 2014, where there are not enough coal-fueled power plants to fill the demand gap. The idea was that with global warming, winters would remain mild, but with the naturally occurring La Niña cycle, and the projected cold winter, we are facing high demand at a time when natural gas production is “getting ready to fall off a cliff.” With reduced supply and pipeline constraints, natural gas may not be able to meet all of the demand. He is encouraging his clients into natural gas.

For consumers this may mean that, because wholesale electricity prices strongly correlate to natural gas prices, power supply costs could be impacted – resulting in higher utility bills. Because of low natural gas prices, homeowners have not felt the full hit of higher cost renewables – but that could be changing as we head into a La Niña winter.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Brexit’s energy lesson for California, et al

Commentary by Marita Noon

“California’s largest utility and environmental groups announced a deal Tuesday [June 21] to shutter the last nuclear power plant in the state.” This statement from the Associated Press reporting about the announced closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant should startle you. The news about shutting down California’s last operating nuclear power plant, especially after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) had sought a 20-year extension of the operating licenses for the two reactors, is disappointing – not startling. What should pique your ire is that the “negotiated proposal,” as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) called it, is between the utility company and environmental groups – with no mention of the regulators elected to insure that consumers have efficient, effective and economical electricity.

Who put the environmental groups in charge? Not the California voters. But unelected environmental groups – and their bureaucratic friends in various government agencies – have been dictating energy policy for the most of the past decade. Regarding the “negotiated proposal,” WSJ points out: “The agreement wades deeply into intricate energy procurement, environmental and rate-setting matters that are normally the exclusive jurisdiction of state agencies.”

California has a goal of generating half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and environmental groups are calling for the state officials to replace Diablo’s generating capacity with “renewable power sources.” Realize that this one nuclear power plant provides twice as much electricity as all of California’s solar panels combined.

Bloomberg Intelligence analysts’ research concluded that PG&E “would need 10,500 megawatts of new solar installations to replace all of Diablo Canyon’s output” and that, without including potential costs of new transmission lines or back-up resources for solar, will cost $15 billion – with totals, including decommissioning, estimated at $20 billion.

The Bloomberg report states: “PG&E will ask that customers make up any shortfall.”

Actual costs, Bloomberg says: “could be lower because the company expects to compensate for lower demand and replace only part of the production.” Why will there be lower demand? The WSJ explains: “the plan calls for new power sources to furnish only a portion of the electricity that Diablo Canyon generates, assuming that greater energy efficiency in the future will also curb some power demand.”

All of this is announced while California is experiencing, and expecting more, blackouts due to “a record demand for energy” and because “there just aren’t enough gas pipelines for what’s needed,” according to CNN Money. “Southern California,” reports WSJ, “is vulnerable to energy disruptions because it relies on a complex web of electric transmission lines, gas pipelines and gas storage facilities – all running like clockwork – to get enough electricity. If any piece is disabled, it can mean electricity shortages. Gas is the state’s chief fuel for power generation, not coal. But the pipelines can only bring in about 3 billion cubic feet of working gas a day into Southern California, below the daily demand, which gets as high as 5.7 billion cubic feet.”

California’s Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s power grid, therefore, has warned of “significant risk” that there may not be enough natural gas which could result in “outages for as many as 14 summer days.” CNN Money reports: “Natural gas has played a bigger role for California as the state has tried to phase out coal and nuclear power” – environmental groups oppose the use of all of these three power sources.

It is expected that Diablo Canyon’s generating capacity will, in part, be replaced with more natural gas – which is good news for fracking. Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations for the California Independent System Operator, said: “California needs more flexibility in how it generates power so it can balance fluctuating output from wind and solar projects. Gas plants can be turned off and on quickly.”

As coal-fueled electricity has been outlawed in California, and environmental groups have pushed to close nuclear power plants, and routinely block any new proposed natural gas pipelines, black outs will become frequent. California’s energy demand doesn’t match solar power’s production.

This dilemma makes “energy efficiency” a key component of the environmental groups’ decrees – which parallels the European Union’s (EU) policies that were a part of Britain’s “exit” decision (known as “Brexit”).

When the EU’s energy efficiency standards for small appliances were first proposed, then German EU energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, according to the Telegraph, said: “All EU countries agree energy efficiency is the most effective method to reduce energy consumption and dependence on imports and to improve the climate. Therefore there needs to be mandatory consumption limits for small electrical appliances.” In 2014, the EU, in the name of energy efficiency, sparked public outcry in Britain when it banned powerful vacuum cleaners with motors above 1600 watts. It then proposed to “ban high powered kettles and toasters” as part of the “Eco-design Directive” aimed at reducing the energy consumption of products.

The EU’s Eco-design Directive’s specific requirements are to be published as “Implementing Measures” – which, according to Conformance.co.uk, are made “as European Law Commission Regulations.” It explains that this process allows the directives to “enter into force in all the member states without requiring a transcription process in their National Law. Thus they can be issued much more quickly than the usual Directive Process.”

When the EU’s high-powered toaster/tea-kettle ban was announced, it became “a lightning rod for public anger at perceived meddling by Brussels” – which was seen as “intruding too much into citizens’ daily lives.” When the ban was announced, retailers reported a spike, as high as 95 percent, in toaster and electric tea-kettle sales. The European overreach became such ammunition in Britain’s Brexit referendum, that Brussels stalled the ban until after the election and engaged in a now-failed public relations exercise with “green campaigners” to speak out in favor of the toaster and tea-kettle regulations that were believed to have “considerable energy saving potential.”

The Brits didn’t buy it. It is reported that top of the list for “leave” voters were “EU Rules and Regulations.” Matthew Elliot, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign said: “If we vote remain we will be powerless to prevent an avalanche of EU regulations that Brussels is delaying until after the referendum.”

Brussels’ toaster and tea-kettle ban, which were perceived as an assault on the British staples, has been called “bonkers” and “too barmy to be true.” Specifically addressing the ban, Elliot said: “The EU now interferes with so many aspects of our lives, from our breakfast to our borders.” David Coburn, a UK Independence party MEP from Scotland, who recently bought a new toaster and tea kettle grumbled: “I think I must have bought a euro-toaster, I have to put bread in it five times and it’s still pale and pasty. Perhaps it’s powered by windmills. And the kettle? Watching a kettle boil has never been so boring.”

While energy efficiency directives banning Keurig coffee makers would be more likely to draw similar ridicule from Californians, there is a lesson to be learned from the Brexit decision: too much regulation results in referendums to overturn them. It is widely believed that, with Brexit and new leadership, many of the EU’s environmental regulations, including the Paris Climate Agreement, will be adjusted or abandoned.

More and more Americans are reaching the same conclusion as our British cousins about the overreach of rules and regulations. As Coburn concluded: “What we want is to let the free market reign, not this diktat by bureaucrat.”

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Under a new name, the same old ruse

June 20, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Back in 2013 I wrote about a company called Ethical Electric, noting that the electricity supplier was charging a premium to help out progressive causes. Well, the other day I received a solicitation from a group called Clean Energy Option and after a little digging I found out it was Ethical Electric that was doing business as (d/b/a) Clean Energy Option. Seems to be less than ethical to change their name, but it’s likely a marketing thing.

Yet thanks to that 2013 piece I wrote for Watchdog Wire, I found out that Ethical Electric was charging 10.14 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) at the time, which was a fair-sized premium over the 8.89 cents per kWh Delmarva Power (my utility) was charging back then. That 14% difference meant the average bill would be about $12.60 higher per month for an average home that used 900 kWh monthly. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I would cry foul if my electric bill was going up $150 a year, since that’s what it translates to.

It just so happened that the Clean Energy solicitation followed my latest Delmarva Power bill by a couple days so my bill was handy. Over the last two-plus years, my Delmarva Power rates haven’t changed a whole lot as the “rate to compare” was 9.01 cents per kWh. In 2 1/2 years I’ve endured an annual rate increase far less than 1% as the total hike was 1.35%. (I also found out in researching this piece that I can get even lower rates by switching my supplier to another of several companies that are in that business. Some are “green” companies like Clean Energy Option, most are not.)

On the other hand, the teaser rate for Ethical Electric’s Clean Energy Option has swelled to 11.6 cents per kWh, which is a rate hike of 14.4% overall and about 6% per year. Most likely this rate will jump again after the three-month special rate ends – after all, what business would promote a higher initial cost? The premium that was once 14% has now doubled to 28%, despite the fact people are bending over backwards to install new solar farms and wind turbines around the region. As Clean Energy Option euphemistically puts the answer to the question “What will happen to my electricity bills?”:

In short, supporting new renewable energy development costs a little more than delivering polluting energy. That’s because the energy you are choosing is better for you and the planet.

(“Better for you” may not be true for a person within sensing range of the low-frequency sound emitted by wind turbines, but I digress.)

There’s obviously something at work here to drive the cost of “regular” electricity down while wind and solar continue to increase. I suspect that something is the low cost of natural gas, which is used more frequently as an energy source to create electricity and is relatively cheap. Ironically, this economic fact is doing almost as much damage to the coal industry as Obama’s EPA regulations.

So don’t be fooled to the tune of $23 a month or nearly $280 a year. Keep the money in your pocket and stick with what is most reliable. Or, if you really want to put that money to work, use it to support elected officials who will stand up to the environmentalist lobby and remove these silly mandates and carveouts for the otherwise unsustainable green energy racket.

More hidden costs of climate compliance

June 17, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Radical Green · Comments Off 

In the interest of not letting good writing go to waste, allow me to direct you to the Patriot Post today. I truly enjoyed writing on my assigned topic this week, but wanted to share a couple other thoughts with you. It’s a good time for some reminders.

Over the years I have done this website, I have made the energy industry somewhat of a focus. It began with a friendship with Jane Van Ryan, who used to work for API before she left there a few years back. She encouraged me to do a little bit of research on the topic and quickly I was reminded that oil was the economic lifeblood of our country and the better and cheaper energy would be, the better off our economy would be. Being the logical sort of person I am, it was easy to figure out that coal, oil, and natural gas were definitely more reliable than wind that may not blow or sun that only shines between 9 and 15 hours a day – assuming, of course, a cloudless sky. So I believed in the idea that our future could be more secure if we use our natural resources we were blessed with.

On the other hand, there are those who want to tilt the playing field toward what they consider “renewable” resources. Green energy has been the beneficiary of not just direct subsidies, but carveouts in the market designed to make sure there is a place for these (otherwise useless) solar panel fields and wind turbines to send their energy. The market has been bent every which way for decades, although I’m sure many would argue that the oil industry got the initial benefits when we built thousands of miles of highways. For the most part, though, the pathways were already there – we just improved them to allow goods and people access from coast to coast in a matter of three to four days. It was as easy as stopping at the gas station every few hundred miles.

My columnist Marita Noon gets it too, which is why I run her column weekly. She was talking about wind turbines this week, which led one of my more liberal readers to note that there are a lot of places which welcome wind turbines. He mentioned Germany, but the love for wind turbines there is far from universal and the subsidies still won’t make offshore wind palatable.

I just look at things through a logical lens. A century ago, windmills powered individual farms but they were scrapped once rural electrification took hold in the 1930s - that was a more reliable source. So why are we going back to that less reliable technology when we have the reliability of coal, oil, and natural gas? Seems to me that “free” electricity in the form of solar or wind power costs a lot more than we think.

Fixing the folly of food for fuel?

May 24, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

(Editor’s note: since Marita was “not in love with” the original title and encouraged those who run her work to rename this piece, I changed it to what you see above.)

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – also known as the ethanol mandate – was passed by Congress in 2005 and expanded in 2007. Regardless of market conditions, it required ever-increasing quantities of biofuel be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply – though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does have the flexibility to make some adjustments based on conditions, such as availability and infrastructure.

At the time of its passage, it was unfathomable that a decade later Americans would be consuming less gasoline, not more. Instead of requiring a set, or even growing, percentage of ethanol be used, the law called for an increasing amount of gallons – which has created unforeseen complications.

Since the law was passed, due to increased fuel efficiency and a generally sluggish economy (meaning fewer people are driving to and from work every day) we’ve been using less gasoline, not more. Requiring more and more ethanol in less and less gasoline is not what the original law intended.

It was believed that the RFS would help achieve energy independence and reduce CO2 emissions – both ideas from a different era.

The RFS was passed at the low point of a decades long decline in U.S. oil production. At the time, no one knew that the trend line would totally reverse due to American ingenuity and the innovations of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that have unleashed the new era of abundance. Additionally, it was believed that corn-based fuel (which is the primary source for ethanol in the U.S.) would reduce carbon dioxide emissions – though the results have been questionable at best.

Since the RFS became law, numerous studies have been done to determine the environmental benefit of ethanol over gasoline – many of which conclude that ethanol is actually more detrimental than gasoline. At a recent House Oversight Committee hearing, John DeCicco, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, said, according to Morning Consult, “the studies assuming biofuels are carbon neutral are flawed.” Morning Consult reports: “he has found ethanol’s net emissions to be as much as 70 percent higher than traditional gasoline.”

Ethanol has an unlikely collection of opponents. Addressing ads put out by the ethanol lobby positing that only “big oil” wants to end the ethanol mandate, FactCheck.org disputes the claim: “Several environmental groups oppose it as well. So does a wide coalition that includes restaurant owners concerned about upward pressure on food prices and boat manufacturers upset at the problems that ethanol can cause in marine engines.”

Despite the controversy, the EPA claims the RFS is a “success.” Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, says: it “has driven biofuel production and use in the U.S. to levels higher than any other nation. This administration is committed to keeping the RFS program on track, spurring continued growth in biofuel production and use, and achieving the climate and energy independence benefits that Congress envisioned from this program.”

With this in mind, it is no surprise that the biofuel industry – which wouldn’t exist without the ethanol mandate – was unhappy when, on May 18, the EPA released its biofuel blending requirements for 2017. Using its ability to make adjustments, the EPA announcement was less than the law required, but more than the market demands. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) states; “EPA officials said they were seeking to strike a balance between Congress’s goal of using more ethanol and the realities of the current fuel market and infrastructure.” Instead, no one was happy.

In Biomass Magazine, McCabe defends the action: “The fact that Congress chose to mandate increasing and substantial amounts of renewable fuel clearly signals that it intended the RFS program to create incentives to increase renewable fuel supplies and overcome constraints in the market. The standards we are proposing would provide those incentives.”

Chet Thompson, president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents refineries regulated under the standard, responded: “EPA’s proposal threatens to force consumers to use more biofuel than vehicles, engines and fueling infrastructure can handle.” He says: “the proposed volumes still go beyond marketplace realities.”

In contrast, a statement from Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association said: “In the past, the EPA has cited a lack of fuel infrastructure as one reason for failing to follow statute. Our corn farmers and the ethanol industry have responded. Over the past year, we’ve invested millions of dollars along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership to accelerate public and private investment in new ethanol pumps and fuel infrastructure. The fact is, today’s driver has more access than ever to renewable fuel choices.”

Regarding the EPA’s May 18 decision, DeCicco told me: “The EPA is trying to pick an economic middle road between the proponents and the opponents. But, through the RFS, the environment has been run off the road. Contrary to what has been promoted by the Department of Energy and some other government agencies, biofuels make CO2 emissions worse rather than better.”

At the aforementioned House hearing, Representative Jim Jordan’s (R-OH) opening statement called the RFS “a classic example of what happens when you get a bunch of politicians together who think they’re smarter than the marketplace.”

Frank Macchiarola, downstream director at the American Petroleum Institute, is calling on Congress to “repeal or significantly reform the RFS.” He asserts: “Members on both sides of the aisle agree this program is a failure, and we are stepping up our call for Congress to act.”

Proving Macchiarola’s point, before the 2017 requirements were released, on May 10, U.S. Representatives Bill Flores (R-TX), Peter Welch (D-VT), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR), and Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced bipartisan RFS reform legislation. The Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act, H.R. 5180, limits the RFS mandate to levels that our nation’s cars, trucks, boats and other small engines can safely accommodate. The bill “directs EPA to consider current market realities and cap the maximum volume of ethanol blended into the transportation fuel supply at 9.7 percent of projected gasoline demand.” Following the news, the bill’s cosponsors issued a statement calling the RFS “unsustainable.”

It is time to get back to allowing the free market – not Congress, not unelected bureaucrats, not mandates, not artificially spurred growth in a chosen industry – to determine our fuel choices. Because ethanol is an effective octane-boosting additive, it will always have market demand. Farmers who’ve invested in it will not be driven out of business. The Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act, while not repealing the RFS outright (which would be tough to pass), offers a reasonable fix to well-intended, but flawed legislation.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energywhich expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Colorado Supreme Court embraces the rule of law, not the fear mongering of the anti-fossil-fuel movement

May 10, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

On Monday, May 2 the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on what the New York Times (NYT) called: “a lengthy battle for energy production.” The court’s unanimous decision to strike down two cities’ limits on fracking is a victory for oil-and-gas companies and a “disappointment” to anti-fossil-fuel activists. Several states, including Colorado’s neighbors, New Mexico and Texas, have faced similar anti-oil-and-gas initiatives that have also been shot down.

The Colorado Supreme Court reached the same conclusion as the lower court: the fracking bans put in place by Fort Collins and Longmont are “invalid and unenforceable” because state law trumps the local ordinances. A report from Colorado Public Radio states: “The ruling will have an impact on other Front Range communities – including Broomfield, Lafayette, and Boulder – that have approved restrictions on fracking. The court clearly said that these efforts are illegal.”

The consequences of the decision are “comparatively small,” according to NYT, as the land now opened up for exploration represents only a fraction of Colorado’s oil-and-gas development. “More significant, said experts on both sides of the conflict, is that the rulings shut down future efforts to stop fracking in local jurisdictions.” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said that she fears the ruling will not end the divisive debate. “Instead some activists will continue to push anti-development initiatives undermining the state’s record of local cooperation on these policy issues.”

The NYT points out: “Spurred by the rise of hydraulic fracturing, Colorado has become one of the nation’s largest producers of oil and gas. The state has more than 50,000 active oil and gas wells.”

According to a press release, the Colorado Petroleum Council “welcomed the decisions for upholding the state’s primacy in overseeing oil and natural gas permitting and curtailing ‘arbitrary bans’ on fracking that could cost local jobs, deprive state and local governments of tax revenue and limit access to energy resources.”

Upon hearing the news, I tweeted: “Great news! Colorado Supreme Court Strikes Down Local Fracking Bans.” Almost immediately, @AllNewSux responded: “@energyrabbit Hooray…now we can all drink poisoned water here in Colorado!”

What is @AllNewSux thinking? He is regurgitating outdated propaganda as study after study – though funders are disappointed with the results – determine, as did the three-year study by the University of Cincinnati released in February: “hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells … does not contaminate ground water.”

The University of Cincinnati study, reports the Free Press Standard: “aimed to measure methane and its sources in groundwater before, during and after the onset of fracking.” It concluded, “dissolved methane was detected in all sampled wells, however, no relationship was found between the methane concentration and proximity to natural gas wells.” The results of the study were released by Dr. Amy Townsend-Small, the lead researcher, during a February 4 meeting of the Carroll County Concerned Citizens in Carrollton, OH – part of a coalition of anti-fracking groups. Townsend-Small stated: “We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.” Her revelations must have been a shock to the group whose pre-meeting promotion included this comment: “We saw the debate about fracking’s impact on groundwater methane in Pennsylvania and the results of failing to have predrilling or baseline data for comparisons. Dr. Townsend-Small’s study provides landowners with that baseline data and helps to differentiate shale sources from non-shale sources of methane.”

The Free Press Standard asked Townsend-Small about plans to “publicize the results.” She said there were “no plans to do so.” Why? “I am really sad to say this, but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping this data could lead to a reason to ban it.”

Just a few months earlier, October 2015, a Yale study, reported in Nature World News, came to the same conclusion: “Fracking does not contaminate drinking water.” The article, which ties in an earlier EPA report, states: “Yale researchers have confirmed that hydraulic fracturing – also known as ‘fracking’ – does not contaminate drinking water. The process of extracting natural gas from deep underground wells using water has been given a bad reputation when it comes to the impact it has on water resources but Yale researchers recently disproved this myth in a new study that confirms a previous report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted earlier this year.”

Then there is the 2014 research from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment that found: “(The) gas data appear to rule out gas contamination by upward migration from depth through overlying geological strata triggered by horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing.” Addressing the study, Hoppy Kercheval, in the West Virginia MetroNews, said: “Fracking opponents should be held accountable as well, and this new research illustrates some of their alarmist proclamations are just wrong.”

In 2013, the “highlights” of a study on the Fayetteville Shale in north-central Arkansas announced: “No relationship between methane and salinity in groundwater and shale-gas wells.”

A year earlier, an EPA study that sampled well water at 61 homes in the famed Dimock, PA area, and “found health concerns in only five of them.” According to the Washington Times, “drilling is not the root of the problems in Dimock” as “the substances found include arsenic, barium and manganese, all of which are naturally occurring.”

The aforementioned studies don’t include myriad comments from public officials stating the same thing.

Perhaps, this preponderance of evidence is what caused so-called expert Anthony Ingraffea to base his recent testimony at the federal trial regarding whether Cabot Oil & Gas was a “nuisance to two families” on “speculation.” In its coverage of the “sparsely attended” February 2016 trial, Philly.com points out: the plaintiffs were “unable to establish that chemicals from hydraulic fracturing got into their water, or that the drilling caused illness.” Coverage at the conclusion of the trial added: the plaintiffs “maintained that the methane contamination disrupted their lives and deprived them of the enjoyment of their property.”

During the trial, the plaintiff’s expert witnesses, both known anti-drilling activists, each acknowledged that they had no direct proof of claims they were there to support. Under cross-examination, hydrogeologist Paul Rubin admitted that he had not identified a specific pathway from any of Cabot’s natural gas wells to the plaintiff’s water supply. Regarding his “theory” about causation of the plaintiff’s allegedly impacted water, Ingraffea, was asked: “In fact, you’re going to tell me I think or I’ll ask you that’s speculation on your part, it is not?” He responded: “You can call it that, sure.” The questioning continued: “You don’t have any direct proof of that, right?” Ingraffea agreed that he didn’t have direct proof and said his theory was “most likely” the cause.

Additionally, the trial discovered that the plaintiff’s water troubles actually began months before Cabot began drilling nearby. The judge repeatedly called out the plaintiff’s attorney for going “over the line.” U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson dismissed the property damage claim against Cabot, because as Philly.com reports: “the plaintiffs introduced no evidence that their property values had been affected.” Additionally, one of the plaintiffs, Scott Ely, “spent $700,000 to build his 7,000-square-foot home – after the water went bad.” Carlson, however, ruled that the plaintiffs had “elicited enough evidence that Cabot had been a nuisance.” A jury awarded $4.24 million to the two families based on nuisance.

Anti-fracking activists, like @AllNewSux, likely point to the award (which is being appealed) and see it as proof that fracking contaminates ground water. Though, a careful read reveals that no such evidence was found – only the “most likely,” theory, and speculation common among anti-fossil fuel claims.

One has to wonder how many more studies and court cases have to be carried out before the fear mongering and activist community finally stop wasting public money to kill jobs and raise energy costs.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energywhich expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

What’s up with prices at the pump and why it could be a good sign

May 3, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

All of us loved less-than $2 a gallon at the pump. AAA reports: “Americans paid cheapest quarterly gas prices in 12 years” – which resulted in savings of nearly $10 billion compared to the same period last year. However, oil (and, therefore gasoline) has been creeping upward since the February low – topping $45 a barrel, a high for the year. And that could be a good thing.

While low prices at the pump have been a boon to consumers, the plunge in oil prices has been a bust for American producers.

You may not care about “big oil,” but there’s still reason to be positive about the rising prices.

There are several causes for uptick. First is the weaker U.S. dollar. As oil is traded in dollars, a weaker dollar means that it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil.

Additionally, we are heading into a busy summer driving season and refineries are switching to the more expensive “summer blend.” The switch typically means a brief shut down for maintenance – which reduces the gasoline supply. Summer driving increases demand.

Globally, oil production is down due to a workers’ strike in Kuwait that took about 1.3 million barrels a day of production offline, and disruptions in Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and the North Sea. Former investment advisor and financial writer Tony Daltorio writes: “That brought the total to roughly 3 million barrels a day that were offline.” In the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “oil production has fallen below 9 million barrels a day in recent weeks, down from a peak of 9.7 million barrels a day last April.”

These are all supply issues that can easily be eradicated with increased production – such as recently threatened by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Additionally, in the U.S., reports Bloomberg: “Drilled, uncompleted wells could return 500,000 barrels a day back to the market.” The potential for increased production has many, including Daltorio, predicting a fall in price from current levels.

Consumers like lower prices, but they signal economic concerns as the price of oil is directly connected to the global economy.

In February, a Citibank strategist warned that due to the extended oil price collapse, the global economy “appears to be trapped in a death spiral.” Eric Sharpe, Publisher at Energy Ink Magazine, states: “Citi’s assessment is clear, and easy to understand: weak global growth results in continued depressed oil prices as demand weakens under over-supply.”

This is why I posit higher prices are a good thing for everyone, not just the oil industry.

Simple economics are based on a supply vs. demand formula. So far, I’ve mostly addressed the supply side. But a careful read of the forecasts indicates an increase in the demand side. Sharpe points out: “The single most important factor for the stabilization of oil prices is for demand to outpace growth which it has not done for over two years. Though demand growth is slow, it is still climbing.”

On April 23, the Financial Times reported that commodities, led by oil, rallied “on signs of stronger growth” that bolstered demand. It also referenced: “better housing and infrastructure demand after China’s economy rebounded in March.”

On April 27, in a story about the price of oil hitting “another 2016 high,” WSJ addressed the fact that the Federal Reserve officials “left interest rates unchanged.” The last time the same decision was made, the statement included language that indicated the global economic and financial conditions posed risks to their outlook. This time, that was removed – “signaling less concern about risks posed to the U.S. Economy by global financial conditions.” In WSJ, Robert Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA, is quoted as saying: “The elimination of international elements in the language may mean that the market feels that the international situation is improving, and we’ll get a bit of demand from emerging markets which wasn’t there.”

Additionally, Phil Flynn, Sr. Market Analyst at the PRICE Futures Group, in his daily energy report, on April 22, wrote: “Demand is busting out all over.” He explains: “Low gas prices are causing a buying frenzy at the pump as gasoline demand in the month of March hit an all-time record high.” He continues: “it’s not just gasoline demand, it is oil demand all over. Not just here in the United States but also in China. China reported that crude-oil imports in March were up a whopping 21.6% from last year coming in close to 7.7 million barrels a day. …China’s demand for imported oil is stronger than it has ever been.” He also addressed; “the strongest ever volume increase in Indian demand.”

There is growing demand.

“The market is coming in better balance,” Jason Gammel, an analyst at Jefferies, stated, according to the WSJ. “We maintain the view that the current oversupply will flip into an undersupply in the second half of the year.”

While this is good news for the oil industry, it is also good for everyone – even though it means higher prices at the pump. If this optimistic view is correct, it means the global economy – despite the bad economic news on the American front – may be heading toward a net positive; that it is not “trapped in a death spiral.”

A growing economy needs energy and that is why higher demand – that equals higher prices – is good for everyone.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

“Green” – the status symbol the affluent can afford that costs the poor

March 17, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Commentary by Marita Noon

Researchers have found that some buyers are willing to pay for environmentally friendly products because those products are “status symbols.” A report in the Atlantic states: “Environmentally-friendly behaviors typically go unseen; there’s no public glory in shortened showers or diligent recycling. But when people can use their behavior to broadcast their own goodness, their incentives shift. The people who buy Priuses and solar panels still probably care about the environment – it’s just that researchers have found that a portion of their motivation might come from a place of self-promotion, much like community service does good and fits on a résumé.”

With “green” having become a status symbol, the affluent can afford it. Yet, their desire to “broadcast their own goodness” actually results in higher costs to those who can least afford it.

Solar power is a great example. On the website for SunRun, a solar panel leasing company, through the story of customer “Pat,” they even encourage the “green status symbol” as a sales feature. While Pat may be happy with her solar panels and “hopes that all her neighbors will go solar, too,” her “green status symbol” costs all the utility’s customers who mostly can’t afford to “go solar.”

As I’ve written on many times, the idea of solar leasing works because of tax incentives and a system called “net metering.” First, those tax incentives are paid for by all taxpayers. Anytime the government gives something away, everyone pays for it. Net metering is a little harder to understand. In short, the utility is required by state laws to purchase the extra electricity generated by rooftop solar panels at the full retail rate – even though they could purchase it at a fraction of the cost from the power plant. As more and more people sign up for these programs, it increases the overall cost of electricity. Remember, however, those with solar panels could have a zero dollar utility bill but they are still using electricity from the utility company at night and generate additional customer service costs such as transmission lines. Ultimately, the cost of electricity goes up on the bills of non-solar customers. Due to this “cost shifting,” many states are changing the net metering policies so solar customers cover the unpaid grid costs. However, as has happened recently in Nevada, the revised programs change the economics and make it unprofitable for companies to operate in the state.

This is clear to see in overall rising electric costs – about 3 percent per year according to the Institute for Energy Research – despite the main fuel costs (coal and natural gas) being at all-time lows.

Earlier this month, Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) addressed another interesting angle: “Green energy can’t compete with $30 oil.” The only way for “green” energy to survive, it says, is: “by the government forcing people to buy them and jacking up electricity and heating prices to families and businesses.”

A new study from the University of Chicago, referenced by IBD, concludes that for an electric vehicle to be cheaper to operate than the modern internal combustion engine, “the price of oil would need to exceed $350 a barrel.” The IBD states: “without massive additional taxpayer subsidies to companies such as Tesla, the price of oil would have to not just double or triple, but rocket more than 10-fold before battery-operated cars make financial sense.”

Yet, sales for the Tesla Model S, the International Business Times (IBT), reports: “actually rose 16 percent last year, in part because they serve as status symbols or appeal to the environmental concerns of well-to-do drivers.”

On March 11, in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins writes: “Voters should be mad at electric cars.” Why? Because, as he explains: “how thoroughly Tesla’s business model depends on taxpayer largess.” Jenkins states: “Tesla’s cars have status cachet, yes. Even some middle-class customers might be attracted, notwithstanding low gas prices, as long as helped by an enormous dollop of taxpayer favoritism.” As he lays out for the reader the “absurdity of their subsidy regime,” Jenkins concludes: “And you wonder why, on some level voters sense that our political class has led America into a dead-end where the only people doing well are the ones who have subsidies, regulation and political influence stacked in their favor.”

Alternative fuels have also taken a hit with low oil prices. According to IBT: “corn ethanol and algae-based diesel need oil prices at around double today’s levels – or higher – to compete with fossil fuels.”

Another fixture of the “green” social movement that has taken a toll in the low oil-priced environment is, surprisingly, recycling. Calling recycling a “$100-billion-a-year business,” National Public Radio reporter Stacy Venek Smith, points out: “Plastic is made from oil, so when oil gets cheap, it gets really cheap to make fresh plastic. When the price of oil gets really low, using recycled plastic can actually be more expensive because it has to be sorted and cleaned.” In Salt Lake City, KUTV reported: “Many businesses are finding it cheaper to manufacture new plastic than to use recycled materials.” In Montana, according to the Philipsburg Mail, plastics are no longer being picked up for recycling “because the price per pound was so low, it didn’t cover the cost of gas and mileage to make the trip.”

The problem is international. Germany has a reputation as a recycling model with a goal of 36 percent of its plastic production coming from recycled materials and “German consumers finance recycling via licensing fees, which are added on to the price of the products they purchase,” says Deutsche Welle, Germany’s leading organization for international media development, in a report titled: “Low oil prices threaten Germany’s plastics recycling.” It states: “For manufacturers with eyes firmly fixed on costs, opting for cheaper new plastics would be the more economically attractive option.” However, many companies, wanting to appear “environmentally friendly” will still “pay up for recycled plastics, despite higher costs” – meaning higher consumer prices for the plastics they produce.

Addressing the recycling problem, The Guardian states: “Recycling only works when there’s someone on the other side of the equation, someone who wants to buy the recycled material.”

Fortunately for the recycling industry, but bad for consumers who pay higher prices for plastic products, the Philipsburg Mail concludes: “A lot of Fortune 500 Companies still want to purchase recyclables to meet sustainability goals.”

Despite claims of “green prosperity” that implies such policies can “fight poverty and raise living standards,” the opposite is true. Everyone pays more – even those who can least afford it – so the elites, seeking green status symbols, can feel good and appear to be community leaders.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

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