Today’s Key Takeaways: Community seminar in Seward focuses on the oil spill prevention and response – it’s working. Will natural gas and its alternatives be the fuel of choice or will electricity? Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. to spend $17.98 million for 2022 work at Palmer zinc-copper-silver-gold-barite project in Southeast Alaska.
NEWS OF THE DAY:
Calling Alaska ‘under attack’ by Biden, Alaska House boosts legal fund
James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, April 17, 2022
During last week’s budget debates in the Alaska House of Representatives, Republican lawmakers stood and declared that the state of Alaska is under attack from the administration of President Joe Biden. No Democratic lawmakers disputed the claim.
Now, as Alaska’s proposed state operating budget advances to the Senate, it contains $2 million for a special account designed to fund lawsuits against the federal government. Known as the “statehood defense fund,” the account was stocked with $4 million last year as state legislators fulfilled a request from Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
The governor and legislators — including some Democrats and independents — have opposed efforts by the Biden administration to limit oil and gas development on federal land, and the statehood defense fund is seen as a major tool to oppose the federal government.
“This is sort of the Defense Department of the state of Alaska,” said Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole. “The Biden administration has just been extremely hostile to the state of Alaska. We have no idea what they’re going to do next.”
“It seems to me to be an attack on Alaskans by the federal government,” he said.
So far, the state has used its defense fund to pay for seven lawsuits on a variety of topics, including support for federal land transfers to the state, opposition to limits on air pollution and opposition to a national moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land.
Several legislators said they believe oil and gas issues are the most important because oil production generates money for the state.
‘The prevention proves that it’s working’ | Peninsula Clarion
Camille Botello, The Frontiersman, April 18, 2022
The spring of 1989 lives in infamy in Alaska.
On March 24 of that year, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, which, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history.
In the decades since, agencies in Alaska have tried to prevent a similar catastrophe from happening again.
Betsi Oliver, an outreach coordinator at the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC), along with members of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, on Thursday led a community seminar about oil spill prevention and response protocol in Seward.
Aboard the Spirit of Matushka ship, community members journeyed into Resurection Bay and observed fishing vessels perform oil spill response training.
The observation hasn’t been held in Seward since 2016, Oliver said, as the PWSRCAC funds the event in different communities on a rotating schedule. Other locations that host the seminar include Whittier, Homer, and Cordova. Valdez and Kodiak also hold their own trainings. Additionally, the PWSRCAC annual board meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in Seward this September.
Oliver said the primary goal of Thursday’s event was to engage with people in the area about the work PWSRCAC and Alyeska do to prevent and respond to spills.
“So many people have lived (here) their whole lives, and maybe they’ve sort of seen (fleets) once or twice out there, but you don’t really know what’s going on,” she said. “We don’t know how much effort goes into this whole system until you start to actually get up close and personal with it.”
During the event, passengers were taken into Resurrection Bay to observe a fishing vessel fleet deploy floating barriers, called containment boom, that help corral oil in the event of a spill.
Captains formed V-shaped arrangements on the water and dragged their boom behind them. There are about 1,200 mariners who are contracted and paid to be oil spill first responders each year.
Oliver said fleets “have to” be prepared to respond within 72 hours of a spill, in order to most efficiently minimize damage.
But what PWSRCAC also focuses on is prevention, she said, which encompasses many practices.
One, she said, is to make sure all oil rigs have a double-hull system. In this model, the ship has two complete layers of watertight hull surface on the bottom of the boat that act as double protection against damage.
The Exxon Valdez tanker, for example, hit Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, which tore open the bottom hull of the ship and caused the 11-million gallon spill. The rig only operated with a single-hull system.
“Now all tankers are required to have a double hull,” Oliver said. “There’s a space so even if it hits a rock, it might not break all the way through to this inner hull, which is actually holding the oil.”
She said other preventative measures include closures during adverse weather, speed limits, ice detection technology, and tugboat escort services.
Preventing oil spills in Prince William Sound is complex, Oliver said, and requires partnerships with many different entities including the fishing captains, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bureau of Land Management, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and PWSRCAC and Alyeska Pipeline.
Jeremy Robida is the spill prevention and response program manager at PWSRCAC’s Valdez office. At the event in Seward, he said the oil industry has come a long way since the Exxon Valdez disaster.
“Hopefully, we never do this for real,” he said Thursday. “But we’ve got all the prevention pieces in place. … It’s such a different world on the prevention side now.”
Robida said the agency operates with contingency plans.
“It’s just a hypothetical scenario written on paper,” he said. “Should the tanker run aground, should something happen, we’ve got at least some basic roadmap on how we would respond and who’s doing what and when and where.”
Hands-on practice in oil spill response, he said, is important so fleets can be familiar with both the protocol and the equipment.
Doug Holloway was one of the observers on the ship Thursday. The California transplant said he wanted to participate in the seminar to learn more about what he can do as an angler and boat owner in the case of a spill.
“I’m a private boater, and I just wanted to hear how they do it,” he said. “(It’s) always good to know.”
Holloway lives in Seward and said he has seen the fleets training with boom containment equipment.
“I see all the same boats out here in the harbor all the time,” he said. “The locals here, I mean, everybody takes it personal.”
It’s important to coastal communities that Prince William Sound be kept clean and healthy, Holloway said.
“This is a beautiful bay, so I sure wouldn’t want some long-lasting problem to happen to it,” he said.
Wendy Sailors, a business development specialist with the Alaska State Parks based in Anchorage, also observed Thursday’s event.
She aided the cleanup effort of the Exxon Valdez oil spill when she was 20, while working for the oil and energy company Veco Alaska, she said.
“It was very interesting and informative,” Sailors said. “I was on the oil spill working and doing those things, but still didn’t remember a lot of what I heard today.”
She said she maintains interest now in her job for the state parks system, since many of the parks border Prince William Sound.
“Public information is important for any aspect of public lands, public waters, our resources, and allowing them to be a voice,” Sailors said. “And be(ing) part of the voice as it pertains to any type of response or prevention is really important.”
Oliver, with the PWSRCAC, said one of the agency’s main concerns at this point is the financial future of oil spill training and response. According to the agency, the “council works closely with and is funded chiefly by Alyeska (Pipeline).” She said limited funding could threaten the future of oil spill prevention and response efforts.
“We keep seeing budgets for Coast Guard, budgets for BLM, budgets for DEC, shrinking, shrinking, shrinking,” Oliver said. “They’re trying to do more with less.”
She said since the agencies work in tandem to prevent spills, one budget cut can cause a ripple effect.
“We’re concerned that this is putting us in a situation more like what we saw in 1989,” Oliver said. “People tend to think it’s been this long without a problem therefore we don’t need all the prevention. And it’s like no, no, no, the prevention proves that it’s working.”
Gas ban 2.0: Building wars
David Iaconangelo, Energywire, April 18, 2022
A tug of war between two visions could decide how — or if — the United States manages to scale down a top source of greenhouse gases for many cities and states.
Across the U.S., government officials, utilities and the natural gas industry are unveiling road maps that could change how buildings derive their heat over the coming decades, a shift with major consequences for emissions.
The blueprints wrestle with the same question: Will natural gas and its alternatives be the fuel of choice or will electricity?
The tug of war between the two visions could decide how — or if — the nation manages to scale down a top source of greenhouse gases for many cities and states. It also could influence the trajectory of U.S. natural gas and how it is used.
For the gas industry and its allies, low-emissions heating can be achieved by still using gas and gradually blending in lower-carbon substitutes like hydrogen.
But many climate activists and progressives are aiming to grant electric technologies the overwhelming share of the market, while banning the use of gas boilers, water heaters and stoves.
This year, the battle has heated up with competing legislative plans and industry road maps. It remains unclear which technologies will win and ultimately dominate.
Nationally, natural gas and electricity currently are neck and neck as sources for building heat, with each one providing roughly 40 percent of the market.
“We’re just starting down this road,” said Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Energy New Hampshire. “We’re still not sure what the future holds.”
In Maryland and New York, Democratic legislators tried to push through this year what would have been the first statewide fossil fuel bans for new buildings — but fell short amid resistance. Other states are contemplating a more limited step of ending free natural gas hookups in new homes.
On Capitol Hill, progressive Democrats also are urging President Joe Biden to guarantee a federal buyer for millions of electric heat pumps. They say that could help Europe disconnect from Russian gas and, in passing, make it cheaper for Americans to ditch gas heat.
Across much of the country, however, there are already multiple laws backed by the natural gas industry that have helped lock in the fuel’s role in heating buildings. Twenty states prevent cities from banning gas use in buildings. Ten others prohibit electric utilities from encouraging customers to ditch gas.
The industry is adding to that foundation with road maps that eye greater use of new fuels such as “renewable natural gas” and hydrogen for building heat.
In February, for example, the American Gas Association published a road map called “Net-Zero Opportunities for Gas Utilities” in which low-carbon gases would supply anywhere from 39 percent to 58 percent of the necessary emissions reductions.
“Through this work we’re really hoping to elevate the conversation beyond just a simple — is it electric versus gas?” said Richard Meyer, AGA’s vice president of energy markets, analysis, and standards.
A first state gas ban?
One electric technology in particular — heat pumps, which can cool and heat a house — has become the favored technology for climate advocates, offering a tool that roughly does for buildings what the electric car did for transportation. About 11 percent of the U.S. uses them for their homes, with the vast majority coming in the warm climates of the South, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Officials in some cities with cold climates want the heat pump to power their new housing stock, despite the elevated cost of using them in frigid temperatures, compared to gas boilers. Last year, New York City effectively made them the go-to choice for new buildings, when it passed the nation’s biggest municipal gas ban (Energywire, Dec. 16, 2021).
In California, state regulators also are planning new building codes that give strong preferential treatment to electric heat for new houses, although the provisions stop short of a hard mandate.
In 2022, at least four state legislatures — Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland — were vying to become the first to institute similar bans.
Three have so far stalled or failed this year, however. The fourth, Massachusetts, is only beginning to consider a bill from this month that would explicitly allow cities to ban gas, although it would not cover the entire state.
Perhaps the most surprising failure for the electricity movement came in New York, where a fossil fuel ban for new buildings had the support of the governor, Kathy Hochul, and the speaker of the state Senate, both of whom are Democrats.
This month, the ban was removed from the state’s budget — a vehicle for many high-profile legislative ideas — due to push back from the Democratic-controlled state Assembly.
Climate activists reacted with indignation, accusing the Assembly speaker, Carl Heastie, of caving to the gas industry and developers. Alex Beauchamp, a regional director for Food & Water Watch, said the speaker was “singlehandedly killing progress on climate change” just days after the release of another gloomy report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said the world would need to use 65 percent less oil and 45 percent less gas by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Mike Wyland, communications director for Heastie, called the accusations “beyond silly” and suggested that the budget was the wrong vehicle for the idea — though without clarifying whether Heastie would back a gas ban through separate legislation.
“Because we didn’t include policy in a fiscal document they need to make up a bunch of conspiracy theories,” said Wyland in an email. “We discuss every issue with our members and that is what the Speaker is guided by, always.”
Similar pushback occurred in Maryland.
In March, a fossil fuel ban for new buildings was stripped from a major climate bill, known as the Climate Solutions Now Act, prior to passage in the Democrat-controlled Legislature (Energywire, March 31).
It came despite an official endorsement of the ban from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, a task force that advises Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the state Legislature on climate policies.
In November 2021, the commission said the Legislature should pass an all-electric construction requirement for new homes, commercial buildings and state offices that would go into effect in 2024, at the latest.
It also said that two independent studies performed by E3 and RMI showed that all-electric new homes in Maryland would have lower construction and energy costs than those that decarbonized by using a mixture of fuels for heat, including low-carbon substitutes for natural gas.
The all-electric requirement was the first prong of a more ambitious suite of building-policy recommendations. By 2030, every low-income house in Maryland should be weatherized, at little or no upfront cost, wrote the commission. And electric utilities should be made to offer incentives for fuel-switching to a wider swath of homes, such that by 2025, heat pumps make up half of all newly sold equipment for water and space heat.
The commission saved its boldest recommendation for the fate of the gas business: State regulators should direct gas utilities to prepare plans for a “shrinking customer base” that include a 50 percent to 100 percent scale down of gas throughput in utility systems, the commission said.
The final version of the Climate Solutions Now bill, which became law on April 9 without Hogan’s signature, cast aside the gas ban. That followed fierce criticism from gas utilities, real estate developers and Republican opponents.
Instead of calling for electric technology, the final legislation required modestemissions reductions from the largest types of commercial and apartment buildings by 2030.
A decade later, those covered buildings would have to reach net-zero emissions, although the law doesn’t specify how.
“It sets really important groundwork for climate action. But it doesn’t really line up the programs and policies needed to reach the goals,” said Victoria Venable, Maryland director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in an interview after the bill’s passage.
Electric heat would have to be the climate solution for buildings, she added. “We know what we need to do next to make good on this promise of emission cuts — we need to electrify across the economy, and we need to expand renewable energy so that electricity is coming from clean, renewable sources,” said Venable in a statement.
During one February hearing, however,staff at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) argued that banning fossil fuels in new buildings was unnecessarily prescriptive and expensive for consumers and could compromise the grid’s reliability.
Mark Case, BGE’s vice president of regulatory policy and strategy, took issue with the climate commission’s conclusion that all-electric heat was the cheapest pathway for building decarbonization.
“The gas delivery system can and must be part of the solution mix,” saidCase.
Gas industry’s road map
Few independent researchers have done comprehensive, nationally focused analyses on whether renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen — the industry’s preferred alternatives — could really emerge as climate-friendly, cost-effective rivals to clean electric heat. “I am not aware of any studies in that space specifically,” said Marianne Mintz, a principal transportation energy analyst at Argonne National Laboratory.
In the interim, utilities’ gas blueprints present their own visions of a net-zero system.
Along with the American Gas Association, the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. also rolled out a road map for carbon neutrality in which renewable natural gas would make up 28 percent of the fuel in the utility’s pipelines, with hydrogen making up another 14 percent. Natural gas would remain the dominant presence at 58 percent, although the overall fuel in the pipelines would decrease by 65 percent, according to the plan.
Environmentalists and some clean energy groups say that alternatives to traditional natural gas could present more challenges than they solve.
Renewable natural gas, for instance, is essentially methane captured from landfills, dairy farms, and other biogenic sources. Hydrogen could also be turned to methane before being blended into gas lines, as envisioned in one February road map from the AGA.
That means the threat of leaks would still pose major consequences for climate change. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, although it has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere.
One 2020 analysis published in Environmental Research Letters by Emily Grubert, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor of environmental engineering, warned that renewable natural gas production is “not inherently climate friendly” and under many circumstances could end up contributing to climate change. Grubert is now a deputy assistant secretary at the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.
Clean energy advocates argue that “clean” supplies of methane would fall far short of what would be needed — an assertion disputed by the gas industry, whose analyses have suggested renewable natural gas could displace much of the current consumption of natural gas. They also note that low-carbon hydrogen is rarely produced in the U.S., given its high cost.
“It’s not realistic to expect the fuels to be available in the necessary quantities. Even if you tried to get there, the cost of the fuels would be pretty high,” said Mike Henchen, a principal for the carbon-free buildings team at RMI, which promotes building electrification.
Local climate activists are almost universally opposed to scaling up renewable natural gas and hydrogen, with many state- and city-level groups blasting those fuels as “false solutions.”
Yet both renewable natural gas and hydrogen would give gas companies a way to repurpose assets that may otherwise become stranded — a looming problem for regulators that could drive up costs for the broader public.
The ability to use existing gas lines for renewable natural gas and hydrogen was cited by Southern Co. as providing a special economic advantage for those fuels when the company released a net-zero road map on March 25. The document found that the company could achieve net-zero CO2 mostly through efficiency gains and the introduction of lower-carbon sources of methane. That pathway was deemed to be lower cost than relying on electrification.
The gas utility road maps emerge amid a growing market for RNG and hydrogen, in part for use in transport or power production, respectively.
A few state legislatures, like Missouri and Tennessee, have enacted recent laws that encourage regulators to approve utility investments in RNG and other “innovative” fuels like hydrogen, with an eye toward reducing the gas system’s emissions. Those add to existing state and federal incentives for low-carbon fuel production that can include RNG, like California’s low carbon fuel standard or the national renewable fuel standard program.
And last year, 33 states took action of some type to promote the use of RNG for building heat, up from 26 the year prior, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. Overall, RNG production capacity grew 12 percent on a year-over-year basis, with $3 billion in investment set aside in 2021.
For the U.S.’s building sector, the feasibility of deep decarbonization may end up depending on whether those RNG and other low-carbon substitutescan become what they are cracked up to be.
Cities at the forefront
The battle over building heating began at the city level, with Seattle; Berkeley, Calif.; and New York City being the first to enact gas bans.
With statewide policy uncertain, cities are once again coming to the forefront.
In the city of Austin, Texas, for instance, sustainability officials want all new buildings to be carbon-free by 2030, followed by the rest of the housing stock a decade later.
To hit that mark, the city wants to combine efficiency upgrades with incentives for electric heat pumps, among other main planks of its plan.
“Over the course of the next 15 to 20 years, yes, it would be easier and simpler if gas was banned,” said Zach Baumer, climate program manager at Austin’s Office of Sustainability.
“But at the same time, if we have the incentives right, and if we do education right with the building community and HVAC contractors, we can win and get to net-zero buildings,” he added.
At the same time, the ability of cities to move policy is limited in many pockets of the country. Nearly a quarter of the U.S. cities that once pledged to observe the Paris climate accord, back in 2017, are located in states that have preemptively blocked gas bans.
On the federal level, the Biden administration is taking a similar approach to the buildings sector.
Last December, the president issued an executive order calling for federal agencies to decarbonize their 300,000 buildings by 2032, with an emphasis on electrifying their heat sources. That was meant partly to boost demand for electric heat pumps, from federal buyers, on the assumption that it would subsequently bring down costs for private buyers.
Building electrification advocates and progressive Democrats are pushing for much bigger version of that plan as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Hundreds of environmentalist groups and clean energy advocates have called on Biden and Congress to use Defense Production Act authority to guarantee federal contracts for heat pumps that would be either sent to Europe or sold in the U.S.
The fullest vision of that was laid out in a plan called “Electrify for Peace” by electrification advocates at Rewiring America.
As heat pump production grows, “the price will drop, because manufactures will make more of them,” said Ari Matusiak, CEO of the group.
“We’re at a moment in time where we have a very active choice about how we’re going to invest in our energy future,” he added. “That’s why we think we should be investing in U.S. manufacturing capacity now.”
Prepping for underground at Palmer VMS
Shane Lasley, North of 60 Mining News, April 18, 2022
Partners approve largest program in history of Alaska project
Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. April 13 announced that US$17.98 million (C$22.7 million) has been budgeted for the 2022 work at Palmer, a zinc-copper-silver-gold-barite project in Southeast Alaska.
“This is the single largest Palmer program and budget, and it will set the stage to initiate underground exploration to provide essential technical information to be included in a future feasibility study,” said Constantine Metals Resources President and CEO Garfield MacVeigh.
Located near the town of Haines, Palmer hosts 4.68 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 5.23% (539 million pounds) zinc, 1.49% (154 million lb) copper, 30.8 grams per metric ton (4.6 million ounces) silver, 0.3 g/t (451,000 oz) gold, and 23.9% (1.12 million metric tons) barite; plus 9.59 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 4.95% (1.05 billion lb) zinc, 0.59% (124 million lb) copper, 69.3 g/t (120.6 million oz) silver, 0.39 g/t (21.4 million oz) gold, and 27.7% (2.65 million metric tons) barite.
A 2019 preliminary economic assessment that was updated earlier this year outlines plans for a 3,500-metric-ton-per-day mill at Palmer that would produce 1.07 billion lb of zinc, 196 million lb of copper, 18 million oz of silver, 91,000 oz of gold, and 2.89 million metric tons of barite over an initial 11-year mine life.
“It is our intention that the conceptual aspects of the current preliminary economic assessment, with its guidelines for further work, will be replaced with much more detailed on-site and off-sight studies and cost estimates in a feasibility study,” said MacVeigh.
Because of the steep mountainous terrain and orientation of the volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits at Palmer, an underground exploration ramp is needed to position drills to efficiently expand and upgrade the current resource in preparation for this feasibility study and potential mine development.
Constantine Mining LLC – a joint venture between Constantine and Dowa Metals & Mining Alaska Ltd. – has approved a roughly C$18 million 2022 program that is expected to include surface exploration drilling, continued baseline environmental work, and preparation for the development of the underground ramp for future exploration and definition drilling.
To prepare for the underground development, which is expected to get underway next year, the robust 2022 program at Palmer will include:
• Completing the construction of the final kilometer (0.6 miles) of road to access the site of the portal for the exploration ramp.
• Construction of facilities for an updated wastewater discharge system related to the underground development.
• Construction of a 50- to 60-person camp to support the underground exploration activities planned for 2023.
In addition, the Palmer project partners plan to carry out a surface exploration drill program to test for the offset of South Wall, the deposit that hosts the bulk of the resources at Palmer, as well as test exploration targets such as Terminus and Jasper Mountain, which host potential thick zones of VMS mineralization that can be tested from surface but are also readily accessible from the planned underground exploration ramp.
Dowa has committed to funding the entire 2022 program, but Constantine has the option to pay its share of 2022 expenses, in whole or part, before the end of the year to minimize project dilution.
Currently, Dowa holds a roughly 54% interest in the Palmer VMS JV, with Constantine holding the balance.
Any dilution resulting from the 2022 program would be pro-rated according to each party’s contributions to project expenditures and will be determined at the end of the year.
Constantine is the operator of the Palmer project and will manage the 2022 program.
White House restores climate change protections to environmental law removed by Trump
Oriana Gonzalez, Axios, April 19, 2022
The White House announced Tuesday that it has restored three “key” climate change protections to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that had been dismantled during the Trump administration.
State of play: The protections require federal agencies to evaluate the climate impacts of the projects they are working on, as well as to encourages them to work with communities to “mitigate or avoid environmental harms by analyzing common sense alternatives.”
- The new guidance also “restores the ability of Federal agencies to tailor their NEPA procedures … to help meet the specific needs of their agencies, the public, and stakeholders.”
Catch up fast: NEPA, a law first enacted in 1969, requires the federal government to consider the environmental impacts of its decision making.
- Former President Trump got rid of some of the law’s protections in 2020 because he said it would help create jobs and make it easier for his administration to build infrastructure.
- Trump’s changes made it harder for community activists to challenge government infrastructure projects. It also made it so that agencies didn’t have to consider the consequences of their projects on the environment.
What they’re saying: “Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time,” Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement.
- “Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and provide greater benefits — to people who live nearby.”
Between the lines: The Biden administration finalized the guidance during the week of Earth Day.