NEWS OF THE DAY:
BLM senior staff shuffling begins; Alaska director out
Scott Streater, E & E News, August 6, 2021
Chad Padgett, a Trump-era appointee as director of the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska office, is out as state director after a two-year tenure marked by increased oil and gas development in some of the state’s most sensitive landscapes.
Padgett, a longtime senior aide to Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, has been transferred to BLM’s headquarters, where he will serve as a senior adviser, the bureau confirmed today to E&E News.
Tom Heinlein, the Anchorage district manager, will take over as acting director of the state office that manages 72 million acres of surface lands in the state, and 220 million acres of subsurface mineral estate — by far the most of any BLM state office.
The BLM statement said that Ted Murphy, the associate state director under Padgett, was also transferred.
“Effective this week, Chad Padgett and Ted Murphy will begin a detail assignment to Bureau of Land Management Headquarters as Senior Advisors,” according to the BLM statement from bureau spokesman Jeff Krauss. “Their combined expertise in federal land management issues will continue to be an asset on the bureau and Department of Interior.”
The 120-day federal moratorium on “involuntary reassignments” ended nearly three weeks ago, which means Interior Secretary Deb Haaland can change the jobs assigned to senior staffers.
The moratorium — which Office of Personnel Management policy guidance states is meant to “allow the new agency head and noncareer appointees to get to know the career senior executives and their skills and expertise” — was in place until four months after the Senate in March confirmed Haaland as secretary.
But Padgett’s transfer out of the Alaska office marks the first of what some current officials within BLM and the Interior Department expected to be a series of leadership moves in anticipation of Tracy Stone-Manning’s expected Senate confirmation as BLM director in the coming weeks.
It’s a common occurrence when presidential administrations change.
The Trump administration made big moves of key personnel shortly after the 120-day window closed in 2017 following Senate confirmation of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, removing BLM state directors in Alaska, New Mexico, and Colorado.
Amy Lueders and Bud Cribley, the state directors at the time in New Mexico and Alaska, respectively, were transferred to senior positions at the Fish and Wildlife Service, while Ruth Welch, then director of BLM’s Colorado office, was moved to a senior position at the Bureau of Reclamation.
A total of about 50 SES-level officials at BLM and other Interior agencies were transferred to other positions as part of that Trump-era staff reshuffling.
BLM last week moved to fill two state director positions currently held by acting directors in New Mexico and Wyoming, as well as in Idaho, where the state director John Ruhs retired last month (Greenwire, July 26).
Padgett helped to orchestrate an oil and gas lease sale and a new integrated activity plan that could open more of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to energy development.
He also oversaw efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas leasing, an idea the Biden administration put on hold shortly after taking office. On Tuesday, Interior announced it would redo the Trump-era environmental analysis undergirding the leasing program, arguing that it contained flaws (Greenwire, Aug. 3).
For some, Padgett was a controversial choice for BLM Alaska state director when the appointment was first announced in February 2019.
Alaska’s senior Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) was pleased, posting in Facebook at the time that Padgett was “a great choice to oversee the 72 million acres of AK public lands for BLM.”
But environmental groups were wary of Padgett because he was said to be the preferred choice of a pro-oil Trump appointee to oversee Interior’s energy agencies, Joe Balash. Balash was a staunch advocate for oil access in both ANWR and the NPR-A.
A current BLM employee who asked to remain anonymous said Padgett was well liked among some Alaska state office staff, and that his transfer out of the office has sapped morale. Noting the Cribley transfer in 2017, the employee bemoaned the fact that the Alaska state office leadership changes along with the political agendas of different administrations.
Climate groups claim infrastructure bill’s green energy spend is a gift to oil companies
Leslie Kaufman, WorldOil, August 9, 2021
When negotiators released the more-than-2,700-page text of the infrastructure bill now inching its way forward in the Senate this week, they discussed it as a glass half full — the first, imperfect step toward greening U.S. energy and industry.
To many looking at it from outside the government, however, what’s in that glass has been polluted.
Many of the bill’s provisions are on the oil industry’s wish list. The proposed legislation has more than $10 billion for carbon capture, transport, and storage, along with $8 billion for hydrogen — with no stipulation that the energy used to produce it comes from clean sources. A new liquid natural gas plant in Alaska won billions in loan guarantees, while other waivers in the bill will weaken environmental reviews of new construction projects, climate groups say.
“This infrastructure proposal is not a down payment on real climate action,” said Mitch Jones, director of Food & Water Watch Policy, a Washington accountability organization. “It is doubling down on support for climate polluters.”
The bill does address some major climate change priorities, with $7.5 billion for a network of electric-vehicle chargers, $21.5 billion to create an Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations and $16 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy. There’s money for resiliency projects and combating wildfires. But that has done nothing to reassure the environmental lobby’s most progressive wing, which has grown increasingly concerned that the oil industry is co-opting the administration’s agenda.
Much of that anxiety has coalesced around support for carbon capture. Last month, hundreds of climate groups wrote an open letter calling on Biden to reject carbon capture as a “dangerous distraction” to eliminating fossil fuels entirely. While the scientific consensus holds that carbon capture will be crucial to slowing atmospheric warming, many environmentalists fear it will also prolong the life of the fossil fuel industry, particularly in the U.S.
Currently, some 40 million tons of carbon are captured globally, the vast majority by energy companies for a process known as enhanced oil recovery, in which the gas is pumped back into the ground to force crude oil to the surface. “EOR is disastrous for the climate, as it results in more oil extraction and more carbon emissions when that oil is burned,” the environmental groups wrote in their letter.
Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president with the American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and natural gas interests, disagreed. He said in a statement that the group supports “the development of innovative technologies, like carbon capture and hydrogen, that will help achieve climate progress.”
He has allies in the climate advocacy world. Noah Deich, president and co-founder of Carbon 180, a group that advocates for carbon removal, said capture will be key to decarbonizing heavy industries such as steel and cement.
Deich understands the skepticism from climate groups but doesn’t think the technology needs to enable oil production. “If done right, the bill could lead to a lot of carbon capture and recovery outside of the enhanced oil recovery space and be a really good foundation for cleaning up heavy industry,” he said.
It’s not just carbon capture that irks the infrastructure bill’s critics. While there’s $5 billion to fund the purchase of clean-running school buses, half of that can be used for vehicles powered by cleaner-burning fossil fuels; those might be better for the environment than diesel, but not as clean as electric buses with no carbon emissions. Even the funding for EV charging infrastructure includes $2.5 billion of that could go to support vehicles that burn natural gas and propane, both of which burn more cleanly than gasoline, but which still contribute to global warming.
“When you look at the energy provisions in this bill, they are they are a boon to the fossil fuel industry and a dismal failure from the perspective of the climate,” said Carroll Muffett, chief executive officer of the Center for International Environmental Law, a non-profit firm with offices in Washington. The group is still working on a full accounting, but Muffett estimates that the bill includes more than $25 billion for technologies that are either “promoted or directly beneficial” to the fossil fuel industry.
President Joe Biden came to office promising a sweeping infrastructure bill that would create more environmentally friendly economy and power system while providing jobs. But it’s been a tough to get that agenda by a Senate that’s divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The bill could also face an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where key players such as Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio have already said it falls short on addressing the climate crisis.
Senate Democrats and the Biden administration have dealt with the discontent by saying they will use a separate budget bill that will require only 50 votes to enact more sweeping measures.
“While the bipartisan infrastructure package does not address the climate crisis at the scale and scope we need, I believe we will have an historic opportunity to meet this moment through the budget reconciliation process,” said Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat known as a climate progressive and Biden ally. “This will be a critical down payment on much more climate action in the months and years to come — both in Congress and at the ballot box.”
John Noel, a senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace, said the infrastructure bill’s shortfalls will spur advocates to focus on the companion measure.
“The reconciliation package needs to be the place where we challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry and all fossil fuel subsidies and, like, kick the industry into a managed decline,” he said. “The outrage at this bipartisan bill is our leverage to make it happen.”
Infrastructure bill could allow loan guarantees for struggling Alaska LNG project
S & P Global Platts, August 4, 2021
Project would still have to be bankable
High price, lack of customers in way
The bipartisan infrastructure package being debated by Congress could make federal loan guarantees available to Alaska’s long-struggling effort to develop a multi-billion-dollar LNG export terminal. But even that may not significantly boost the chances of the project ever getting built.
The text of the 2,702-page bill as written does not call for direct funding to the Alaska LNG project. The legislation would, however, make several changes to the US Department of Energy’s lending and loan guarantee authorities.
One provision would make changes to the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act of 2004 to remove specific destination requirements that restricted federal loan guarantees for projects commercializing North Slope gas to projects supplying the Lower 48. Analysts at ClearView Energy partners said they interpreted the change as making the existing loan language eligible for use in the Alaska LNG project. As did Larry Persily, a former federal coordinator for Alaska gas pipeline projects under the Obama administration.
“If you did have a quasi-viable project, and you could get a federal loan guarantee, then your cost of debt would be lower,” Persily said in an interview.
The existing law authorizes DOE to issue up to $18 billion of project loan guarantees — indexed to inflation — with the portion that could be used to cover an LNG project limited to $2 billion.
A project would still have to be bankable to secure financing, though, which remains a major obstacle for the Alaska LNG project. The project has faced persistent challenges, including a lack of customers and a price tag that remains high at about $38.7 billion, even after cost-cutting efforts.
“It’s good politics back home,” Persily said of the Alaska LNG project efforts. “It keeps the dream alive, and there is a lot to be said for keeping a dream alive, particularly if it doesn’t cost anything. But I don’t think by any stretch if this were to pass it moves the project ahead on anyone’s list of viability, of [projects] next in line, because it has got all the same problems as before.”
Building infrastructure to move otherwise stranded North Slope gas resources, amounting to about 35 Tcf of proven gas reserves, has been a goal of Alaska and the federal government for decades. The advantage of a major LNG export plant in Alaska would be a shorter shipping route to major demand markets in Asia than for rival Gulf Coast projects. The Alaska LNG export terminal, on the Kenai Peninsula in Nikiski, would be capable of producing 20 million metric tons per year of LNG.
The state-run entity tasked with overseeing the project, Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, said earlier this year that it would shift its focus toward developing a pipeline project that would deliver North Slope gas to the Fairbanks area in the central part of the state. The plan would be to use that $5.9 billion pipeline — one part of the proposed 800-mile-long, 42-inch-diameter line that would feed the planned LNG terminal in southern Alaska — as a first step toward advancing the broader project. AGDC said it would seek federal clean energy infrastructure funding to cover about 75% of the pipeline costs and rely on a private partner to cover the rest of the project costs and spearhead the line’s development.
The draft legislation does not spell out such funding. And the pipeline to Fairbanks by itself does not appear to qualify for the proposed loan guarantees included in the bill, Persily said.
AGDC officials said they are working to understand whether the project could be eligible for funding under different areas of the proposed legislation and that their talks with private parties are focused on developing the entire LNG project, instead of the pipeline to Fairbanks alone. The LNG project has the federal regulatory permits it needs to advance to construction, although the DOE in July ordered a supplemental environmental review amid legal challenges by environmental groups.
Gates-backed firm ties up with Bluejay on battery metals quest
Cecelia Jamasmie, Mining.Com, August 9, 2021
KoBold Metals, a start-up backed by a coalition of billionaires including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, has partnered with Britain’s Bluejay Mining (LON: JAY) to explore for critical materials used in electric vehicles (EVs) in Greenland.
KoBold, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help find key minerals for green technologies, will pay $15 million in exploration funding for the Disko-Nuussuaq project on Greenland’s west coast in exchange for a 51% stake in the project, Bluejay said in the statement.
Shares in Bluejay Mining skyrocketed on the news, trading up 25% in London at 11.64p by mid-day local time. This is the highest the stock has traded since Feb. 19 when it hit 11.9p. It leaves the exploration company with projects in Greenland and Finland with a market capitalization of 113.23 million pounds (about $157m).
The Disko-Nuussuaq license holds metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum and KoBold’s funding will cover evaluation and initial drilling.
BlueJay said previous studies have found that the area in western Greenland resembles the geology of Russia’s Norilsk region, a main producer of nickel and palladium.
“This agreement is transformative for Bluejay,” Bluejay CEO Bo Stensgaard said. “KoBold is an organization with the heft and technical capability to grow this project to its full commercial potential,” Stensgaard said.
KoBold’s backers include big names such as Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The latter is financed by well-known billionaires including Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, Richard Branson, as well as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Not a miner
KoBold, as its chief executive officer Kurt House has stated multiple times, does not intend to be a mine operator “ever.”
The company is focused on searching for battery metals began, a quest that began last year in Canada. It acquired rights to an area of about 1,000 square km (386 sq. miles) in northern Quebec, just south of Glencore’s Raglan nickel mine.
KoBold aims to create a “Google Maps” of the Earth’s crust, with a special focus on finding cobalt deposits. It collects and analyzes multiple streams of data — from old drilling results to satellite imagery — to better understand where new deposits might be found.
Algorithms applied to the data collected determine the geological patterns that indicate a potential deposit of cobalt, which occurs naturally alongside nickel and copper.
The California-based firm also expects to bring in other investors, potentially including its current backers, on a deposit-by-deposit basis. It will also seek mining-savvy partners once it has identified an interesting project.
Alaska senators mixed on weekend votes moving $1t infrastructure bill toward finish line
Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media, August 9, 2021
The U.S. Senate is inching toward passage of a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. It’s a top priority of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who helped negotiate it. The bill includes billions for Alaska’s roads, bridges, and ferries, plus funds for broadband and water projects in rural communities.
The bill has enough Republican votes to pass, but it’s not clear how Sen. Dan Sullivan will vote. He hasn’t announced his position. In a procedural vote Saturday, Sullivan voted against advancing the legislation. His spokesman said he favored more debate and opportunities to amend it.
But late Sunday, in another procedural vote, Sullivan was among 18 Republicans who joined Democrats to support the bill.
The Senate could pass the infrastructure package early Tuesday, sending it to the House.
Want an EV charger? Good luck finding one, study says
David Ferris, ENERGYWIRE, August 9, 2021
Nobody walks in LA, as the song goes. But if you do, there’s a decent chance in Los Angeles of finding a nearby electric vehicle charging station.
Wander the poorer neighborhoods of San Antonio, Chicago, or Baltimore, though, and you’re out of luck.
Such are the results of a new report that posed a question of growing importance for the transportation sector: Where does one fuel these snazzy new EVs that are coming out if you’re not fortunate enough to have a garage or driveway?
The top-line answers are discouraging for the industry. Only 9.7% of people in the 50 largest U.S. cities have a public charger within a five-minute walk of home. Remove the two top performers — New York City and LA — and the figure drops to 6.2%.
The answer, the study urged, is to put charging stations near where lots of people — and especially disadvantaged people — live, like at every Baltimore public school, or in the parking lots of a military base in San Antonio.
The research was conducted by Mobilyze.ai, a 2-year-old company that analyzes where to put EV infrastructure, with support from the Toyota Mobility Foundation.
The challenge for drivers who don’t own their own chargers is becoming more acute as plans for EVs ratchet up. On Thursday, President Biden held an event with top officials from automakers Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Stellantis NV to mark a tentative agreement for each to sell 50% electric vehicles by 2030 (Energywire, Aug. 6).
According to the study, only 47% of vehicles in the U.S. have access to dedicated parking in a garage or driveway.
The analysis put numbers to something that experts know: Charging stations have mostly sprung up around where EV adoption is highest. And EV adoption is highest among wealthy, environmentally conscious white people.
“Put simply, we do not have enough chargers, and we do not have them in the right places such that driving an EV is a realistic choice for all Americans,” the study said.
It tailored its findings to emphasize racial equity, which has become a persistent focus of the Biden administration and society at large since the massive street protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd last year.
Biden has pledged that the U.S. will build 500,000 charging stations by 2030. There is $7.5 billion in funding for them in the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being finalized in the Senate. Biden is also attempting to steer 40% of such funds to disadvantaged communities.
The Mobilyze.ai study considered every public charger listed in the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center and crunched how many people live within a quarter mile, or about a five-minute walk. Tapping U.S. census data, it looked at the socioeconomic profile of each city block.
The researchers found that in Chicago, for example, the white enclaves of Lincoln Park, Lakeview and downtown are well-served by chargers, while there are almost none in primarily Black neighborhoods like Chatham and Englewood, or in majority Latino areas like Pilsen and Hermosa.
The results vary greatly by city.
In Baltimore, Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C., one is 20% less likely to have a station five minutes away if living in a mostly Black neighborhood. That disparity drops to 4% in Kansas City, Mo., where Kansas City Power & Light Co. has engaged in an expensive deployment of over 1,000 charging stations.
Counterintuitively, the city with the most charging stations in the most “walksheds” is the sprawling, car-centric city of Los Angeles.
More than 24% of the population has close-by access to more than 3,100 charging stations, which is twice as many as any other city.
In New York City, 18% of the population has such access — although most chargers are on the crowded island of Manhattan, and many come with an access fee in commercial parking garages.
The report points to possible ways to increase access to chargers.
In Baltimore, charging access could be expanded by putting chargers at all 169 public schools, which would provide five-minute-walk access to 158,000 residents, for use during the many hours school is not in session.
In San Antonio, chargers could be placed at Joint Base San Antonio, a facility run by the Air Force; at the local campus of Texas A&M University; and near a Toyota Motor Corp. manufacturing plant.