Oklahoma State University held its 7th Annual Energy Conference on Tuesday in Oklahoma City, and our man Jay F. Marks (@okenergybeat) was a tweeting machine. You can read his dispatches below and check out Energy Editor Adam Wilmoth’s recap of the conference here. For the speaker presentations, go here.
Newly completed research by the Coordinating Research Council indicates increased ethanol in gasoline could damage the fuel systems in millions of vehicles manufacturing since 2001, the American Petroleum Association said Tuesday. The council is an organization supported by the oil and automotive industries.
Bob Greco, API’s director of downstream and industry operations, said earlier testing showed E15 could harm valve and valve seat engine parts.
“The additional E15 testing, completed this month, has identified an elevated incidence of fuel pump failures, fuel system component swelling, and impairment of fuel measurement systems in some of the vehicles tested. E15 could cause erratic and misleading fuel gauge readings or cause faulty check engine light illuminations. It also could cause critical components to break and stop fuel flow to the engine,” Greco told reporters in a conference call. “Failure of these components could result in breakdowns that leave consumers stranded on busy roads and highways. Fuel system component problems did not develop in the CRC tests when either E10 or E0 was used. It is difficult to precisely calculate how many vehicles E15 could harm. That depends on how widely it is used and other factors. But, given the kinds of vehicles tested, it is safe to say that millions could be impacted.”
The American Coalition for Ethanol dismissed the CRC results, maintaining motorists have nothing to fear from ethanol in their fuel.
“This is just another ghost story, told by people who stand to lose market share when consumers finally have access to E15,” said Ron Lamberty, the group’s senior vice president. “We shouldn’t be surprised at Big Oil’s latest attempt to scare consumers — they’ve shown no shame in twisting test results to protect their market share. There is a reason that the oil companies don’t want E15 and it has everything to do with protecting the bottom line and nothing to do with protecting consumers.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year allowed retailers to use a higher blend of ethanol in their gasoline, but E85 is not widely available in Oklahoma.
Pipeline developer TransCanada has obtained a permanent injunction against three environmental groups and dozens of activists involved in recent protests against its Gulf Coast project, a 485-mile pipeline between Cushing and the Gulf Coast.
Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North America, Rising Tide Texas and 20 others agreed Friday not to trespass on TransCanada property in Oklahoma and Texas in order to avoid facing a lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages for disrupting the pipeline project.
“The permanent injunction that these protesters have now agreed to relates to TransCanada, Keystone, our affiliates and contractors. It covers existing operations, offices, construction sites, storage yards, right-of-way/easements and equipment in Texas and Oklahoma,” the company told The Oklahoman. “They cannot interfere with the use and enjoyment of our property, equipment, construction materials and facilities or prevent access to and from our properties and equipment.”
The activists who oppose the $2.3 billion pipeline contend the lawsuit was a strategic move by TransCanada to disrupt their protests, noting the Canadian company had claimed the protests had not impeded construction in any way.
Tar Sands Blockade spokesman Ramsey Sprague said the protests will continue, despite the settlement.
“TransCanada is dead wrong if they think a civil lawsuit against a handful of Texans is going to stop a grassroots civil disobedience movement. This is nothing more than another example of TransCanada repressing dissent and bullying Texans who are defending their homes and futures from toxic tar sands.”
Texas grandmother Tammie Carson, one of the defendants in the case, said she got involved on principle, but financial concerns led her to accept the settlement.
“I took action for my grandkids’ future. I couldn’t sit idly by and watch as a multinational corporate bully abused eminent domain to build a dirty and dangerous tar sands pipeline right through Texans’ backyards,” Carson said. “I had no choice but to settle or lose my home and everything I’ve worked for my entire life.”
TransCanada said Monday the Gulf Coast project is about 40 percent complete, with plans to get it into commercial operation by late this year.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. will let the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conduct extensive tests at one of its well sites to determine if hydraulic fracturing is safe, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The process, commonly known as fracking, is used to extract oil and natural gas from dense rock like shale, but it has been dogged by concerns that it contaminates drinking water.
Chesapeake, one of the nation’s leading oil and gas producers, will allow the EPA to sample water at one of its well sites before and after the well is drilled, an Obama administration official told the Journal.
A Chesapeake spokesman declined to comment on the report Wednesday night.
Texas-based Range Resources Corp. may cooperate with the EPA as well, according to the Journal, if liability concerns can be addressed.
Up to 353 coal-fired power plants in 31 states should be shuttered, the Union of Concerned Scientists said Tuesday.
The environmental group detailed its plan in a report, “Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants.”
The group said the country’s older, less-efficient coal plants should be closed because it will cost more to install scrubbers than to use natural gas- or wind-powered generators instead.
The targeted coal plants produce about 6 percent of the country’s electricity and represent about 59 gigawatts of power generation capacity — or more than 48 times the amount of power needed to travel through time.
Oklahoma’s coal-fired plants were not on the list, even though Tulsa-based Public Service Co. of Oklahoma announced in April that it will close its last two coal units by 2016 and 2026.
A new documentary on energy, “Switch,” is getting good reviews from both environmentalists and those in the energy industry.
I had the chance to see it last night at a screening in Oklahoma City. (It continues tonight and Thursday.)
I’ve seen the controversial fracking film “Gasland” and the energy industry’s response, “Truthland,” so my tolerance for talking points on both sides of the debate was fairly low. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and measured tone of “Switch.”
The movie, which was made with the help of the American Geosciences Institute foundation, follows geologist and University of Texas professor Scott Tinker around the world as he explores where and how our energy is harvested. It includes some spectacular shots of massive coal mines in Wyoming, hydro projects in the fjords of Norway and wind farms in Texas.
“Switch” also features a short interview with Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon and follows a Chesapeake “fracking” crew out in the field. The documentary doesn’t shy away from discussing the public concerns about hydraulic fracturing and has interviews with environmentalists, policy makers and industry officials.
But “Switch” is more than just fracking. It takes a comprehensive look at the world’s energy needs, with a particular emphasis on the rapidly growing demand for energy in China, India and other developing countries. The takeaway? Those countries will be using coal and oil to meet their future energy needs, and there’s little the developing world can do about it.
It doesn’t take long for serious discussions about energy to get complicated, but “Switch” boils down all the talk of megawatts and BTUs to a simple unit: the amount of energy an average person uses in a year. (If you’re curious, Tinker defines it as about 20 million watt-hours of energy.) From an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico to a concentrated solar plant in Spain, the movie defines the energy produced in terms of how many people it would power.
For all the technology improvements in energy, “Switch” makes it clear that it comes down to scale. A technology advancement or discovery might be great, but if you can’t scale it up to serve large numbers of people, then it will remain a niche solution. Through a combination of renewables and nuclear power, the film estimates the world will reach a “switch” point in 2064. That’s when the use of renewables and nuclear will match the use of “foundational” fuels coal and oil.
The last part of “Switch” focuses on energy efficiency and what individuals can do at home to save money–and energy. The efficiency side of the equation is often forgotten about in the political fights over energy policy, but the film makes it clear that the energy we waste is just as important as the energy we
If you can’t make it to the remaining screenings in Oklahoma City, check out the “Switch” website, which has short videos and some highlights from the documentary.
Continental Resources Inc. founder and CEO Harold Hamm is expected to testify Thursday morning before a House subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
Hamm plans to talk about the potential for North American energy independence, opening up federal lands to oil and gas drilling and the importance of tax credits for the oil and gas industry, according to his prepared testimony.
I am excited about our energy future and therefore our economic future. But I am equally concerned about federal policies that could cost us that future.
Just a few years ago, America was importing 60 percent of its oil. But with technological advances in horizontal drilling over the last 15 years, we now import less than 45 percent of our oil. Just a few years ago we estimated our nation’s natural gas reserves at seven years. We now have natural gas reserves of over a century. With this extraordinary advance in technology we can now access the immobile oil and natural gas of the world. Previously to this point we were only able to produce the world’s mobile oil and natural gas. There is about 1/3 more immobile oil and natural gas than the mobile oil and gas we have produced for over a century. The technology that allows us to drill two miles down, turn right, go another two miles and hit a target the size of a lapel pin has unlocked the resources that make energy independence a reality.
This paradigm shift in American oil and gas exploration brings with it high-paying jobs, increased tax revenues and economic growth, while lessening our dependence on foreign oil.
Hamm also serves as the head of energy advisory committee for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose energy plan touches on similar subjects as Hamm’s prepared remarks. But Hamm emphasizes in his testimony he’s there as a private citizen:
But I am not here representing Continental Resources, any political campaign or political party. I am here as an American patriot that loves my country and a person that is grateful for the opportunities I have been given by being an American. Only in America can the thirteenth child of a sharecropper turn a one-man, one-pump-truck operation into one of the nation’s largest oil companies.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Think Progress environmental blog have several hypothetical questions for Hamm ahead of his testimony. They are skeptical of the claims of energy independence and want more details on which federal lands might be opened for oil and gas exploration.
In his hearing testimony, Hamm supports opening federal lands and offshore areas for drilling, but claims it “would impact my company very little” because “we mainly work on private lands.” But Hamm holds a number of permits to drill on public lands, including recent permits for Montana and North Dakota. Romney’s plan would likely boost Hamm’s profits, but potentially at the risk of Americans’ national parks.
Pipeline company TransCanada Inc. had planned to trap and relocate hundreds of the endangered American burying beetles along Keystone’s proposed path, but new rules by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prevent the pipeline developer from moving the hiding bugs until the project receives federal approval.
An official with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the federal government last year and prompted the rule change, said the decision could set back Keystone’s construction by up to a year because the insects can only be moved in the spring and summer.
A TransCanada spokesman told the World-Herald that it is too soon to know how the new rules would affect construction, but that the company will work with the new regulations.
There’s a lot of ways to deal with this,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said.
Construction of the Keystone XL is expected to take two years, and work could be adjusted to allow for removal of any beetles without affecting that timetable, Howard said.
The American burying beetle has been causing heartburn for oil and gas companies in Oklahoma for more than a decade.
The insect has been listed as an endangered species since 1989, but regulations were expanded in 2002 when it was discovered that drilling and pipeline operations can harm the species by disturbing larvae even though the adult beetle is only active from May to September.
To ensure the insect’s safety, environmental regulations require companies to hire biologists and survey areas for the beetles before they dig in areas where they may be found. If any of the species are found in an area, biologists must trap or bait them away.
Unlike most endangered species, the burying beetle is not limited to a specific habitat. The bug once thrived in 35 states and three Canadian provinces, but decades of development have driven the species to near extinction, conservationists say.
Over the past 15 years, the American burying beetle has been found only in seven states along the periphery of its former range.
The American Petroleum Institute has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its mandate to use nonexistent biofuels.
“EPA’s unattainable and absurd mandate forces refiners to pay a penalty for failing to use biofuels that don’t even exist,” said Bob Greco, API’s director of downstream and industry operations. “The mandate is effectively an added tax on gasoline manufacturers that could ultimately burden consumers.”
EPA issued its 2011 Renewable Fuel Standards in November based on gasoline and diesel projections from the Energy Information Administration. The agency is also required to set the cellulosic biofuel standard each year based on the volume projected to be available during the following year, using EIA projections and assessments of production capability from industry.
API maintains there was no commercial supply of cellulosic biofuels last year, citing EPA’s own records, but the agency still required refiners and fuel importers to use or pay for credits to cover 6.6 million gallons of nonexistent biofuels. That accounts for about 2 percent of the U.S.’s daily gasoline usage, according to EIA.
“EPA is directed to set the fuel requirement at a realistic volume but the agency continues to mandate the use of biofuels that do not exist,” Greco said.
API filed its lawsuit in D.C. Circuit Court late Tuesday. The trade group petitioned EPA to reconsider its mandate May, but was denied.
API says it supports a “realistic and workable” renewable fuel standard, recommending EPA base its prediction on at least two months of actual cellulosic biofuel production when establishing its mandate.
“This approach would provide a more realistic assessment of potential future production rather than simply relying on the assertions of companies whose ability to produce the cellulosic biofuel volumes EPA hopes for is questionable,” the trade group said.
API represents more than 500 companies involved in all aspects of the oil and natural gas industry.
The former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator who made headlines for promising to “crucify” a few oil and natural gas companies has joined the Sierra Club’s fight against coal, the environmental group announced Friday.
Al Armendariz resigned in April as administrator for the EPA region that includes Oklahoma and Texas after his comments at a 2010 public hearing were brought to light by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa.
Armendariz told a questioner that the EPA would “crucify” a couple of oil and gas companies as an example of how the agency’s environmental regulations would be enforced. He apologized for those remarks before he resigned.
Sierra Club officials welcomed Armendariz to their fight against coal.
“This is an exciting day for clean energy and public health supporters in Texas,” said Bruce Niles, a top Sierra Club official. “Al has worked closely with the Sierra Club for many years, as an environmental scientist and professor. He understands the critical importance of developing clean energy to create jobs, protect people and protect air and water.”
Armendariz spent eight years as a professor in civil and environmental engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas before joining the EPA.
“As a third generation Texan, I’m proud to be taking on this new role to help protect Texas,” Armendariz said. “As a father and a scientist, I know how important it is to transition to cleaner sources of energy that don’t pollute the air that our children breathe, and I’m proud to be working on a campaign with a proven track record for success.”
Starting next month, Armendariz will be senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. He will be based in Austin.