Todays Key Takeaways: Biden blocks Cook Inlet lease sales – claiming no interest. Conoco Phillips provides details. Germany to cut red tape for LNG projects. Ucore advancing Bokan. New Alaska news outlet focusing on politics.
NEWS OF THE DAY:
Biden pulls 3 offshore oil lease sales, curbing new drilling this year
Anna Phillips, The Washington Post, May 12, 2022
The Interior Department confirmed Wednesday that it will not hold three oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska that had been scheduled to take place, taking millions of acres off the auction block.
The decision, which comes as U.S. gas prices have reached record highs, effectively ends the possibility of the federal government holding a lease sale in coastal waters this year. The Biden administration is poised to let the nationwide offshore drilling program expire next month without a new plan in place.
While President Biden has spoken in recent weeks about the need to supply oil and gas to Europe so those nations can stop importing energy from Russia in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the move would mark a victory for climate activists intent on curbing U.S. fossil fuel leasing.
Barring unexpected action, the current five-year offshore drilling program will lapse at the end of June. Interior cannot hold any new oil and gas lease sales until it has completed a replacement plan. But though the federal government is legally obligated to prepare one, the administration has not released its proposal, nor have officials said when it might be coming.
The program’s looming expiration means the government doesn’t have enough time left to hold the three remaining oil and gas lease sales scheduled under the current plan. Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz cited a lack of interest from oil companies, as well as legal obstacles and a time crunch, as reasons for nixing the planned auctions.
In an email Wednesday evening, Schwartz said the department “will not move forward” with a roughly 1-million-acre sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet “due to lack of industry interest in leasing in the area.”
She added that the department will not hold “lease sales 259 and 261 in the Gulf of Mexico region as a result of delays due to factors including conflicting court rulings that impacted work on these proposed lease sales.”
Environmentalists praised the move, but the oil and gas industry and Republicans voiced dismay. Offshore drillers have sought to raise the alarm for months about the leasing program’s June 30 expiration date, saying that a lapse in the program would cost thousands of jobs and billions in lost tax revenue.
Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore energy companies, said in an interview Thursday that the expiration of the offshore leasing program will chill investment in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Over the past few years, there have been several announcements of new projects coming online, so it’s very positive,” he said. “However, we’re not going to be able to continue with that trend if we can’t get new leases.”
Biden officials have said they are working on a proposal for a new offshore program and describe the industry’s concerns as overblown. According to Interior’s figures, more than three-quarters of the offshore federal waters already under lease remain unused — that’s about 8 million acres where companies could drill new wells but have not.
Because most oil-and-gas production takes place on private and state-owned land, experts have said there’s little evidence the administration’s leasing approach will affect prices in the months ahead. Even if Interior held the three planned offshore lease sales, it typically takes years for companies to drill new wells and ramp up production.
Still, Republican lawmakers have seized on the issue as a way to direct Americans’ frustration over rising prices at the White House.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (Ark.), the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, called the administration’s decision a sign of its “blatant disregard” for Americans struggling with inflation.
“I can’t imagine a more tone-deaf, shortsighted decision that jeopardizes our economic and energy security without doing a single thing to help the environment or the American people,” he said in a statement.
Replacing the current plan won’t happen overnight. The timeline spelled out in regulations governing the program requires a three-step process involving environmental analysis, public comment periods and a review by the president and Congress.
It typically takes the government at least six months to a year to finalize a new offshore drilling plan. This means that even if the Interior Department unveils a new proposal in the coming weeks, the soonest energy companies will learn whether they will have access to new leases, and where, is probably early 2023.
Amid rising oil prices, inflationary pressure and the upcoming midterm elections, there is much uncertainty over how far the administration is willing to go on offshore drilling.
As a candidate, Biden promised to making tackling climate change a priority. He temporarily halted new oil and gas leasing on federal land and waters a week after taking office. But after a Louisiana judge struck down the moratorium last summer, administration officials said they were legally obligated to continue leasing.
ConocoPhillips Alaska issues details on natural gas release | AP News
Associated Press, May 11, 2022
ConocoPhillips Alaska has attributed the release of natural gas at one of its North Slope drill sites earlier this year to a broken barrier during construction of a waste disposal well, when pressure limits were exceeded during freeze protection operations.
The company describes what occurred as “a unique event, with nothing similar ever occurring at a ConocoPhillips Alaska site.”
An investigation into the matter by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees oil and gas drilling in the state, continues, said Samantha Carlisle, a special assistant with the agency.
“Because the investigation will be thorough and comprehensive,” the commission does not have a projected timeline for when the probe will be completed, she said by email.
ConocoPhillips Alaska last month said a shallow gas reservoir that the disposal well had come in contact with was the source of the gas release. The disposal well was intended to be used for the regulated disposal of oil field waste, according to a video released by the company, which noted the company had started drilling operations on the well in late January.
The gas release was first detected on March 4. The company, in a statement this week, said that by March 8, it had “secured the location, determined the most probable gas source, and established a controlled flow path for the gas” into its central facility at the Alpine development. The flow of gas from the source was stopped as of March 29, it said.
The waste disposal well has been cemented to the surface, the company said.
ConocoPhillips Alaska said no gas had been detected beyond the CD1 pad, “no recordable injuries were reported, no damage to the tundra was observed and no wildlife impacts were reported.”
The company says it will incorporate findings from its investigation into future projects.
Germany Poised to Become LNG Powerhouse With Law to Cut Red Tape
Vanessa Dezen, Arne Delfs, Anna Shiryaevskaya, Bloomberg, May 11, 2022
Legislation set to cut approval time for import terminals
Nation is among EU states seeking to reduce reliance on Russia
Germany is set to become a liquefied natural gas powerhouse within a year as it fast-tracks new import terminals to slash its dependence on Russian fuel.
Germany’s Federal Cabinet gave the green light to draft legislation to cut the approval process for such facilities to a 10th of the usual time. The government is planning four floating terminals, allowing it to replace at least 70% of Russian gas imports and marking a significant u-turn in energy policy after years of resisting costlier U.S. LNG.
“Gas supply interruptions cannot be ruled out in the current situation, so precautionary measures must be taken,” the Economy Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. “The immediate and fastest possible development of more independent sources of gas is urgent.”
European Union gas importers are racing to secure alternative shipments as they break ties with President Vladimir Putin’s regime amid the war in Ukraine. For Germany, which received more than half its supply from Russia last year, deliveries into the four planned terminals would cover about a third of its annual consumption — while boosting the bloc’s total import capacity by a fifth.
Ucore launches program to advance Bokan
Shane Lasley, North of 60 Mining News, May 10, 2022
Ucore launched a trenching and bulk sampling program at Bokan Mountain that will provide the information needed for a prefeasibility study that details the plan for a mine at the rare earths project in Southeast Alaska.
Located on Prince of Wales Island, the Dotson Ridge deposit at Ucore’s Bokan Mountain project hosts 4.79 million metric tons of indicated resource containing 31,722 metric tons of total rare earth oxides – 14 lanthanide elements, yttrium, and scandium – plus 1.05 metric tons of inferred resource with 6,979 metric tons of total rare earth oxides.
In addition to rare earths, this Southeast Alaska deposit hosts appreciable amounts of niobium, zirconium, beryllium, hafnium, titanium dioxide, and vanadium – all considered critical to the U.S.
A five-week field program now underway at Bokan is focused on upgrading a portion of the current resource to the measured category and collecting a roughly 50-metric-ton bulk sample to support a mill flowsheet pilot-scale testing program as part of a PFS.
This work is being led by Aurora Geosciences Alaska General Manager Jim Robinson, who has been involved with Ucore’s exploration at Bokan for more than a decade.
“Jim Robinson and his team have put together a mineral resource upgrade program for 2022 that will enable us to finalize our exploration efforts towards developing the Bokan Project as we respond to Western electrification demands and the associated need for rare earth critical metals,” said Ucore Rare Metals Vice President and COO Mike Schrider.
The mineral concentrate produced from the 2022 bulk sample material during the pilot-scale testing will be processed through a demonstration plant being developed at Ucore’s RapidSX Commercialization and Development Facility in Ontario.
RapidSX – which is basically a modernization and technological upgrade to the conventional solvent extraction technique that has been the standard for separating rare earths for more than 40 years – is the separation technology being installed at the Alaska Strategic Metals Complex Ucore is planning to build near the Southeast Alaska port town of Ketchikan.
“Continued execution of the company’s long-term Bokan Mountain development plans, coupled with our near-term plan to construct the Alaska SMC 35-miles to the northeast of Bokan in Ketchikan, represents a unique opportunity for Ucore, the communities of Southeast Alaska and the State of Alaska,” Schrider added.
Further details on the development of RapidSX for the Alaska SMC and other applications can be read at Ucore regroups and advances Alaska SMC and Testing confirms Ucore rare earths tech in the April 22 and April 29, 2022 editions of North of 60 Mining News, respectively.
The development of a mine at Bokan and the nearby Alaska SMC are part of Ucore’s strategy to develop a North American rare earth elements supply chain that is particularly focused on the REEs needed for the magnets going into electric vehicle motors.
While not high-grade overall, the Dotson Ridge deposit at Bokan is particularly enriched in heavy rare earth elements, including the terbium and dysprosium oxides often used in the powerful permanent magnets in EV synchronous motors.
As a result of the rapid transition to electric mobility, over the past two years the price of terbium has rocketed from US$700 per kilogram to US$3,978/kg, and dysprosium has climbed from US$348/kg to US$641/kg.
With global EV sales forecast to climb to around 30 million per year by 2030 and more than 80 million per year by 2040, the demand for these magnet rare earths is only expected to increase over the next two decades.
“As automakers shift to electrification, a totally new metallic supply chain must be created,” said Ucore Rare Metals Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan. “The historical automotive business was vertically integrated with rubber plants in South America to an array of steel manufacturing plants as a key part of their production strategy. Today automakers from Ford to GM to VW realize that controlling source raw materials right back to the mine could determine how many electric vehicles they will be able to make and at what cost. The further development of the Bokan Mountain Complex for long term security of rare earth oxides used in powerful electric motors presents an opportunity for deep integration of Western supply chains.”
It also provides an opportunity for Alaska to become a valuable link in the global EV supply chain.
“Working together as a team and with our stakeholders, we can help lead the United States’ concerted effort to establish an independent REE supply chain to support the transformation to EVs and renewable energy sources and ensure that high-paying family-wage jobs are generated and maintained in Southeast Alaska for decades to come,” said Schrider.
A newly upgraded resource calculation based on the current trenching and sampling program at Bokan Mountain is expected to be completed later this year.
New news outline shines more light on Alaska politics
Mark Sabbatini, Juneau Empire, May 11, 2022
Alaska Beacon, a nonprofit outlet debuts.
or those who believe the journalism motto “democracy dies in darkness,” Alaska’s news coverage just got more light.
The Alaska Beacon debuted Wednesday as an online nonprofit publication featuring reporting by a four-person staff, including three formerly at news-related jobs in Juneau. Its content is available free at its website (alaskabeacon.com) and via subscription newsletter, and can also be republished free of charge by other news organizations.
“The Alaska Beacon aims to be an outlet people who want to better understand Alaska and its government can turn to,” an article published at the website Wednesday states. The cost-free sharing with other media is because “the number of full-time journalists covering Alaska legislative sessions has declined as news organizations have cut back and consolidated under financial pressure.”
The Juneau Empire is among the publications that will on occasion include the Beacon’s content.
“The Alaska Beacon’s newsroom includes many talented reporters, including multiple former Empire reporters, and as a voracious reader of news, I look forward to seeing their work,” Juneau Empire editor Ben Hohenstatt said. “As traditionally structured newsrooms continue to face challenges, I think quality reporting focused on state government being made freely available to publications is a good thing. The Alaska Beacon’s reporting will augment the resources the Empire will continue to direct toward covering statewide issues that hit close to home.”
The Beacon’s staff includes Yereth Rosen (formerly at Arctic Today and Reuters), Andrew Kitchenman (KTOO-FM); James Brooks (Anchorage Daily News) and Lisa Phu (public information officer for the City and Borough of Juneau). Brooks and Phu are also former Empire reporters.
The Beacon is operated by States Newsroom, which now has outlets in 27 states plus the District of Columbia. It is generally described by industry publications as a straightforward facts-based news operation that is somewhat left-leaning in determining its coverage.
Indications of those leanings are reflected in how some Alaska news sites and blogs reported the debut of the Beacon. Dermot Cole’s self-titled liberal blog declared “Alaska political news coverage stands to improve, thanks to a new nonprofit enterprise.” The conservative news site Must Read Alaska asserts the newcomer “is ideologically driven and backed by some of the biggest names in dark money in politics…which intends to shape the narrative toward the Democratic Party.”