AK Geothermal Boost. Gasoline Price Amnesia. Gas Leak Source Identified.

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Today’s Key Takeaways:  Makushin Geothermal Project gets $2m boost. No injuries or environmental impacts as a result of North Slope natural gas leak. Governor Dunleavy to President Biden: “Invoking Defense Production Act Contradicts Federal Decisions Delaying Ambler Access.”  Supreme Court reinstates Trump “certification rule” relating to Clean Water Act.


Unalaska tribe gets federal money for geothermal project to source energy from active volcano
Theo Greenly, KUCB, April 5, 2022

For decades, green energy proponents have been trying to harness geothermal energy from an active volcano on Unalaska Island. And although there have been hurdles trying to bring geothermal energy to Unalaska, the clean energy source is one step closer to fruition.

The 6,000-foot Makushin volcano last erupted in the 1990s, and its molten magma could provide a fuel source for the Aleutian community.

The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska has received more than $2 million in federal dollars to go towards the Makushin Geothermal Project to harness a local source to power the island’s community and industry. It’s part of the $1.5 trillion spending bill that President Biden signed on March 15.

Unalaska is a city of around 4,500 people that’s host to several large fish processing plants and the Port of Dutch Harbor. The city has relied exclusively on diesel to power the electrical grid since World War II but has sought new power sources for decades.

The power project is being led by Ounalashka Corp./Chena Power, LLC, a joint partnership between Unalaska’s Native village corporation and a Fairbanks-based private energy firm.

Although the Qawalangin Tribe is not a partner with OCCP, the tribe’s chief executive Chris Price says they are helping out and providing funding.

“We came up with this proposal to Congress to support the geothermal project and we were able to secure $2.5 million to go towards geothermal diversification, education programs, and to support the Makushin Geothermal Project,” Price said.

The city currently uses around 3 million gallons of diesel per year, according to Richard Owen, the city’s powerhouse supervisor.

The city signed an agreement to purchase about $16 million of electrical energy per year from OCCP in 2020 to replace its reliance on diesel. That amount would increase each year.

Unalaska City Manager Erin Reinders has said the city’s ratepayers would likely be paying slightly more initially, but the cost would go down over time, especially if industrial customers — like seafood processors — get on board with purchasing geothermal produced electricity.

The three main processors in Unalaska largely provide their own power by burning diesel generators and have not agreed to any purchase arrangement with the city, but Unisea wrote a letter of interest for the project — at least in principle.

Tribal President Harriet Berikoff said she is optimistic the fish plants would see the writing on the wall and get on board with locally produced energy that would bring rates down.

“I hope our electricity becomes cheaper, and everybody else kind of joins in together,” Berikoff said. “We’ve been [talking for years and years], but I’m sure the canneries and the other businesses will eventually join and support us.”

Originally, the geothermal project was expected to be completed by the summer of 2024.

But OCCP has needed several extensions. The most recent was in February; now the project is expected to be complete in 2027.

The City of Unalaska, the Qawalangin Tribe, and the Ounalashka Corp. all say they are working together more closely to capitalize on an agreement they signed to move forward united on some of the community’s key infrastructure projects.

And Berikoff said that will help pave the way for the future.

“Well, I’m hoping that, as a team, we can all work together and make it work,” Berikoff said. “I’m sure it’s gonna work, with the rest of us trying to do the best for the community here.”

Representatives from OCCP did not respond to several requests for comment.


Source of ConocoPhillips gas leak identified
Liv Clifford, Fairbanks Daily News Miner, April 5, 2022

ConocoPhillips Alaska has identified the source of a natural gas leak first detected last month at an oil drill site on the North Slope, the corporation announced Friday.

A month-long investigation determined that the source of the leak originated from a sand layer approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet below the surface of the C-10 Halo zone of the WD-03 well. The well site was fully plugged and abandoned after the discovery was made last week.

“Source remediation activities commenced March 30. This involves placing cement in multiple steps to isolate the C-10 Halo interval,” ConocoPhillips Alaska said in a statement.

The subsurface natural gas leak was first discovered on March 4 at the CD1 Alpine drill site, approximately nine miles north of the small Inupiat village of Nuiqsut and caused more than 300 non-essential employees to evacuate. The corporation temporarily suspended drilling activities at well slots CD1-50 and WD-03 after the leak was discovered.

Since the source discovery, ConocoPhillips Alaska has detected low levels of natural gas inside wellhouses. No natural gas has been detected off the CD1 pad, the statement said.

ConocoPhillips Alaska estimates that approximately 7.2 million standard cubic feet (MMSCF) of natural gas was released into the atmosphere as a result of the leak, with the majority being released between March 4 and March 8, the statement said.

“Some small amount of gas that was released to the subsurface strata may continue to escape to the atmosphere over time,” according to ConocoPhillips Alaska. Subsurface strata refers to the various layers of rock formation that exist below the surface of the CD1 pad.

There have been no reports of injuries or environmental impacts as a result of the leak.

Although the most recent air quality and snow composition testing has not shown anything outside of normal range in the community of Nuiqsut, residents remain concerned.

“The process left a lot of unanswered questions,” said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of Nuiqsut. “The process could have been done much better. There’s ways of keeping the community informed and making sure that we have adequate access to information.”

“The changes that we went through with this event left us highly speculative with what’s happening and where we go from here,” she explained.

The Alpine Central Facility has continued to supply natural gas to the Nuiqsut Utility Cooperative throughout the incident. Ahtuangaruak expects the community to learn more about the situation in the coming months.


Democrats Have Gasoline Price Amnesia
Opinion, The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2022

Only last October they browbeat U.S. CEOs to produce less oil and gas.

House Democrats must have political amnesia—or hope Americans do. On Wednesday they’re holding another political struggle session to lash oil and gas CEOs for surging gasoline prices. But only last autumn they were demanding that these same companies produce less oil to reduce the global supply of crude.

During the Oct. 28 hearing, California Rep. Ro Khanna praised BP and Shell CEOs for pledging to reduce their oil production. Then he asked U.S. oil execs why they weren’t doing the same. “Are you embarrassed as an American company that your production is going up while the European counterparts are going down?” he asked Chevron CEO Michael Wirth.

Mr. Wirth tried to explain that new supply was needed to meet rising global demand, but the Silicon Valley Congressman persisted: “It is not a gotcha question. Do you commit to do anything to matching your European counterparts to try to bring the actual demand of oil production down?”

Mr. Wirth replied: “With all due respect, I’m very proud of our company and what we do.”

He should be. The U.S. oil and gas industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and produces far fewer methane emissions than Russia. Until recently the U.S. was the world’s swing oil producer, helping keep crude prices down. Not everyone can afford a Tesla.

Mr. Khanna next flogged Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods: “Would you commit to matching your European counterparts to reducing the production of oil?”

Mr. Woods answered gamely, “We’re committed to lowering our emissions.”

Mr. Khanna wasn’t satisfied: “No. Are you committed to lowering the production as the Paris accords say, or no? It’s a yes or no.”

If progressives truly cared about the climate, they’d support more U.S. oil and gas production, which could replace supply from countries with lower environmental standards and higher emissions. More U.S. natural gas exports would also reduce global consumption of coal, which is much more carbon intensive. But the Democratic left’s main goal nowadays is reducing U.S. oil and gas production, which all other things being equal means less supply and higher energy prices.

California Rep. Katie Porter illuminated this when she chided the CEOs for opposing Mr. Biden’s halt on new oil and gas leases on federal land: “You already have 13.9 million acres! This is equivalent to Maryland and New Jersey combined. How much more do you need?” Twenty-six House Democrats have signed onto a bill introduced in December to ban fracking as well as oil and natural gas exports.

Now they blame oil companies and Vladimir Putin for high gasoline prices, but their policies empower Vladimir Putin by keeping global oil prices higher than they should be.


Invoking Defense Production Act Contradicts Federal Decisions Delaying Ambler Access

April 5, 2022

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy issued this statement on the Biden Administration’s use of the Defense Production Act to accelerate critical minerals development.

“I’m pleased to see President Biden recently put the Defense Production Act to work to accelerate our critical battery material development. He’s going to find Alaska is key to the electrification of everything. We’ve got graphite. We’ve got cobalt, manganese, and nickel — four of the five critical materials for batteries. In fact, Alaska has 29 of the 35 critical minerals listed by the federal government. This transition to tech materials driving the 21st Century — can’t happen without Alaska.

“For example, Graphite One is looking to develop its Graphite Creek deposit here in Alaska. The U.S. Geological Survey just reported that the deposit for Graphite One is the largest known in America.

“I fully support the President making the development of these minerals a priority in our nation’s interest. But the Biden Administration also needs to reconsider earlier actions it made to delay development of just such a resource of critical minerals: the Ambler Mining District. In February, the Biden Administration asked to reopen the Environmental Impact Statement for the Ambler Access Project. In March, the Biden Administration suspended the road right of way for it. Stalling development of the road to the Ambler Mining District is preventing access to the cobalt for the lithium batteries and the copper for the wires for charging stations. Beyond EVs, the Biden Administration ignores the gallium and germanium also at the Ambler Mining District that will be needed for the solar panels, smartphones, and computer chips of tomorrow.

“An emergency call for critical minerals makes it timely to reverse the recent and contradictory federal decisions on Ambler. Restore the road right of way. The Ambler Access Project is also in our nation’s interest. Allow it to lead to critical and vital resources.”


Supreme Court halts ruling against Trump Clean Water Act rollback in 5-4 decision
Rachel Frazin, The Hill, April 6, 2022

The Supreme Court on Wednesday halted a prior court ruling that struck down a Trump-era rule limiting state and tribal authority to veto projects that could impact their waters, including pipelines. 

The Trump rule in question, which was nixed by a federal court in October, limited states’ authority to block projects by giving them a strict one-year time limit to do so. If it did not meet this time limit, the government could determine that it had waived its veto power. 

The rule also limited the scope to only those that will impact water quality. It excluded other considerations, such as air quality or “energy policy.” 

The high court on Wednesday halted that vacatur, reinstating the rule for the time being, in a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal justices in dissenting. 

A dissent, penned by Justice Elena Kagan, argued that the states and industry groups who had asked the court for the pause didn’t prove that not doing so would cause “irreparable harm” and therefore did not qualify for a stay. 

“The applicants here have not met our standard because they have failed to substantiate their assertions of irreparable harm. The Court therefore has no warrant to grant emergency relief,” she wrote.

The Trump rule, known as the “certification rule,” came about after high-profile rejections of fossil fuel projects in left-leaning states, namely, New York’s denial of a natural gas pipeline and Washington state’s denial of a coal shipping port. 

The Biden administration, meanwhile, announced last year that it would revise the rule. 

“We have serious water challenges to address as a nation and as EPA Administrator, I will not hesitate to correct decisions that weakened the authority of states and Tribes to protect their waters,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a statement in May.