Today’s Key Takeaways: Big oil carbon capture moves drawing opposition. Gas industry unhappy with Biden methane proposal. NovaGold puts $25M into Donlin project. Heating up: pressure on Biden to declare a national climate emergency.
NEWS OF THE DAY:
Critics drill Big Oil over new carbon technology moves
Andrew Freeman, Ben Geman, Axios, August, 22, 2023
A multi-billion dollar federal spending commitment, a big corporate deal and one oil executive’s provocative comment are fueling skirmishes about the promise and peril of nascent technology to draw carbon out of the air.
Why it matters: Where the debate leads may shape the future of the direct air capture (DAC) industry, and the ability of countries to meet climate goals.
Driving the news: The discussions are taking place at a time when, for the first time, large sums of money are starting to flow into the DAC industry.
- A policymaking window may be open for a short time that could ensure new technologies maximize environmental benefits while averting environmental risks to communities or paradoxically leading to emissions increases.
Zoom in: One of the main threads of the conversations has been sparked by the oil giant Occidental’s $1.1 billion purchase of the DAC firm Carbon Engineering last week.
- This move has raised key questions around the potential role for oil and gas in the DAC business.
- The technology is meant to draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere. If Oxy, or other oil and gas companies, use it as a means of enhancing oil recovery — which involves pumping CO2 into the ground to get more oil out — that would be counterproductive, DAC proponents fear.
- An Oxy spokesperson told Axios via email they do not plan to use DAC under the deal for such purposes.
Using direct air capture for long-term carbon storage could help reduce excess CO2 in the air, with some caveats, according to Erin Burns, executive director of Carbon180, a nonprofit group focused on carbon removal.
- Oxy has positioned itself to eventually offer customers ways to reduce their carbon footprint through the production of what it calls “net zero oil.” To that end, the company is spending more in the DAC space than many of its counterparts.
Yes, but: Oxy’s intentions have been called into question by a quote that has been making the rounds from its CEO, Vicki Hollub, in which she seemed to say the quiet part out loud. By using direct air capture, the oil and gas industry can continue producing more fossil fuels for another 80 years.
- Critics of big oil and gas have pounced on that statement, using it to question the viability of DAC technology, and arguing for more federal funding of renewables instead.
The big picture: Burns told Axios the Oxy deal, plus the unprecedented federal funding, are sparking difficult but necessary debates about the role of certain actors in DAC — and carbon removal more broadly.
Gas industry blasts Biden pipeline methane proposal
Mike Shoraghan, Energywire, August 21, 2023
The industry says it supports reducing the planet-warming gas but called the Biden administration’s draft rule “highly unrealistic.” Dozens of environmental and safety groups support the rule.
The oil and gas industry is accusing the Biden administration of “overreach” for its proposed regulations to reduce methane leaks from pipelines.
The proposal “blatantly” contradicts Congress’ directives, includes “highly inaccurate” cost estimates and would impose “highly unrealistic” deadlines for compliance, according to a recent letter from the American Gas Association. The letter was submitted at the end of the rule’s public comment period and was also signed by several state gas associations.
The draft rule — from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — would update leak detection and repair rules for 2.7 million miles of pipelines under federal jurisdiction. PHMSA officials project the proposal would cut emissions from the pipelines the agency regulates by as much as 55 percent.
“We are very concerned with how PHMSA, as a safety organization, is prioritizing climate concerns to be on par with pipeline safety,” AGA and other groups wrote in the letter.
Methane is a greenhouse gas about 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 20-year time scale. The oil and gas sector is considered the largest U.S. industrial source of the planet-warming gas — and EPA estimates that one-third of those emissions come from infrastructure subject to PHMSA regulation.
The AGA, American Petroleum Institute, and five other groups representing refineries, pipeline owners and gas companies stressed in a separate comment last week that they “support the intent of the proposed rule and share PHMSA’s goal of addressing methane emissions.”
But, they wrote, “extensive changes must be made.”
They call for three years — rather than six months — to implement any new rules and assert that “chasing” small leaks could come at the expense of replacing old, leak-prone pipes. They said PHMSA’s proposal contradicts the directives of Congress by, essentially, ordering the repair of all detectable leaks.
But environmental groups called for swift adoption of the new rule, submitting comments that offered ideas to make the rules apply more broadly. They also emphasized that safety and the environment are closely related.
“Methane pollution from natural gas pipelines is accelerating the pace of climate change and affecting the safety of communities across the country,” they wrote in a letter signed by representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund and more than 75 other organizations.
The Pipeline Safety Trust, the country’s main pipeline safety advocacy group, called the proposal an “important step.”
“For too long, leaks and venting were considered operationally normal for gas pipelines, but we know more now about the serious health, safety, and climate impacts of methane emissions,” Executive Director Bill Caram and counsel Erin Sutherland wrote in a submitted comment from the Bellingham, Wash.-based group.
A question of cost
The Biden administration rolled out the proposal in May, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling it “a long-overdue modernization of the way we identify and fix methane leaks.”
The proposed rule would require companies to use commercially available technologies to find and fix methane leaks from transmission, distribution, and other pipelines under federal jurisdiction. It would also cover underground natural gas storage facilities and liquefied natural gas facilities.
The draft proposes setting criteria and deadlines for repairing leaks that endanger “public health or the environment.” Companies would be required to seek out leaks using aerial surveys, handheld detection devices and continuous monitoring sensors.
The proposed regulations would also minimize intentional emissions, which often occur during maintenance, and encourage companies to consider capturing the gas for use or sale.
In its comment on the rule, the AGA blasted what it called “inaccuracies, errors and omissions” in PHMSA’s cost-benefit analysis. That analysis projects the rule would cost companies as much as $880 million but produce benefits worth $1.4 billion. That includes societal benefits from reduced methane pollution and financial benefits for companies that would lose less natural gas from their pipes.
AGA and API assert that those costs are understated. While PHMSA estimates the rule would cost gas transmission operators $15 million, for example, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America predicts it would cost at least $228 million and as much as $516 million.
The law governing PHMSA regulations includes a cost-benefit requirement stronger than at other agencies. Critics say that makes it easier for industries to challenge the costs of PHMSA’s regulations.
PHMSA declined to comment last week, saying it will respond to the public comments in a later stage of the process.
Climate is a new focus for PHMSA, a division of the Department of Transportation that has traditionally viewed leaks as a physical safety concern. For most of its history, methane leaks from pipelines and other facilities in unpopulated areas were not considered a major safety threat if they didn’t explode or catch fire.
Lawmakers have debated for decades whether the federal government’s top pipeline safety organization should also focus on the environment. A Democratic-controlled Congress added environmental imperatives to pipeline safety laws in 1993, at a time when pipeline safety was assigned to another DOT division.
But in the 2004 legislation that created PHMSA as a stand-alone agency, a Republican-controlled Congress ordered that it must place “safety as the highest priority.” The agency’s website says its mission “is to protect people and the environment.”
The methane proposal drew more than 16,000 individual comments. A summary of the comments will be provided to PHMSA’s Gas Pipeline Advisory Committee. A PHMSA scheduling document says the panel is expected to meet the week of Nov. 27 to discuss the proposal.
NovaGold adds $25M to its available funds for developing Donlin
Evan Erickson, KYUK, August 18, 2023
NovaGold, the Canadian mining company that owns a 50% stake in the controversial Donlin Gold Project in Alaska, recently added an additional $25 million to its coffers by selling its interest in a separate mining project.
American mining company Newmont Corporation is buying NovaGold’s interest in the Galore Creek Project in British Columbia, Canada, and just made its third payment.
According to Globe Newswire, NovaGold’s exit from Galore Creek has provided it with a “strong financial foundation to advance its 50%-owned Donlin Gold project in Alaska.”
NovaGold has said that the Donlin Gold Project, located about 10 miles north of the village of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River, has the advantage of being in “one of the safest mining jurisdictions in the world.” If developed, it would become one of the largest open-pit gold mines in the world.
Donlin opponents say that the catastrophic effects of a tailings dam failure for downriver communities have not been considered, and they are concerned about the impact of the project’s barge traffic. In April, tribal organizations for Bethel, Tuluksak, and Kwethluk sued the federal government, calling into question the final environmental impact statements for Donlin.
HIGH HEAT President Joe Biden is under renewed pressure to declare a national climate emergency as he travels to Hawaii today to tour the aftermath of the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history.
More than 110 people were killed in last week’s wildfires, which caused an estimated $5 billion in damages and opened the island’s primary utility, Hawaiian Electric, to class-action lawsuits and allegations of severe negligence.
“President Biden’s recent claim that he has ‘practically’ declared a climate emergency has renewed calls for him to actually do so,” the Los Angeles Times editorial board said in an op-ed this weekend. “And he should.”
Others, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), are also turning up the heat.
If the devastation in Hawaii isn’t a climate disaster, he told Politico this weekend, then “what is?”
“I refuse to accept that people choosing between burning alive or jumping into the ocean for hours on end is our new normal. This is a crisis, and we need to treat it that way. That starts with President Biden declaring a national climate emergency to unlock vast federal resources and emergency powers to help our communities prepare for and recover from these deadly climate disasters,” he added.
Why it matters: Biden was already under pressure to declare an emergency before the wildfires.
Calls for the emergency declaration come as many parts of the U.S. have been hit by record-hot summer temperatures, including areas like Phoenix and Texas, which have each recorded their longest-ever streaks of triple-digit temperatures in a row. Temperatures in Austin have reached or surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 44 days straight, an all-time record that has pushed up demand and added new reliability concerns for consumers.
Grid operators in Texas urged consumers this weekend to reduce their electricity use, including turning off large appliances and requesting all government agencies reduce energy use at their facilities, as demand climbed to a record-high level of 85,435 MW and prompted new blackout fears. ERCOT has so far shattered demand forecasts 10 times in a row, prompting some of the biggest reliability concerns since Winter Storm Uri, the 2021 storm that killed 246 Texans and left millions without power.
Meanwhile, parts of the Northeast and Midwest continue to face harmful air quality and smoke from the intense wildfires in Canada, which continue to burn through British Columbia and Yellowknife, prompting new evacuations and adding to the country’s worst-ever wildfire season on record.
From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy