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January 27, 2015

Senate panel to hear oil, gas regulators’ take on falling oil prices

Energy, environmental, water briefings set for Senate Natural Resources

The Texas Railroad Commission plans to update the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee on potential impacts of plummeting oil prices at the committee’s first meeting Wednesday, according to committee Chairman Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.

Other top state agencies overseeing environmental, energy and water policies are also set to brief committee members at the meeting scheduled at 9 a.m. in room E1.012 at the Capitol Extension.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 26, 2015

Does public need its own advocate at Texas Railroad Commission?

Environmental group says the legislature should create one

The Texas Railroad Commission, long criticized for being friendlier to the oil and gas companies it regulates than to Texans affected by energy development, isn’t exactly jumping at a chance to create an Office of Public Advocate.

This session, for the first time, the group Environment Texas is asking lawmakers to give the public, by statute, its own advocate at the commission, according to Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 26, 2015

Tenaska’s natural gas-fired plant gains GHG permit

Construction in Brownsville to create 600-700 jobs

The planned $500 million Tenaska Brownsville Generating Plant received a final greenhouse gas permit from the Environmental Protection Agency Monday to construct a natural-gas fired generating facility in South Texas.

The plant, which will operate in Brownville, will create 600-700 temporary construction jobs and 23 full-time, permanent jobs when the plant begins operations.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 26, 2015

US Steel hands notices to workers in Texas, Alabama

Cites ‘fluctuating oil prices’ for ‘temporary’ job cutbacks

Citing the “cyclical nature” of oil prices, U.S. Steel Corp. said Monday it has notified 1,918 employees in Texas and elsewhere that their jobs could be subject to workforce adjustments in light of softening market conditions.

“The adjustment in operations is a result of softening market conditions that reflect the cyclical nature of the energy market,” the company said in a statement. “Global influences in the market, like unfair trade and fluctuating oil pries, continue to have an impact on business.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 26, 2015

Senate Natural Resources Committee oversees PUC, TCEQ, RRC

Patrick’s office officially releases assignments but not jurisdictions

The newly reconstituted Senate Natural Resources& Economic Development Committee named Friday by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has jurisdiction over the Public Utility Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission, according to the office of committee Chairman Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.

“We will have a great challenge in continuing the economic momentum that has resulted from the energy boom, and the committee will review all economic development legislation to move through the Legislature,” Fraser said in a statement.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 22, 2015

2014 electricity demand rises but peak demand in summer falls

Natural gas continues to gain over coal in ERCOT grid

Texans used more electricity last year but not during peak demand times on the hottest days of the year, according to a new report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Peak demand during the hottest days of 2014 actually dropped by 1.1 percent from the same time a year earlier, according to ERCOT’s 2014 Demand and Energy Report, which captures electricity trends in the state’s primary electric grid.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 21, 2015

Obama gets mixed reviews from environmentalists, industry

Climate change actions go too far or not far enough, they say

President Barack Obama circled back to climate change during his State of the Union address last night, prompting applause from some environmental groups but harsh criticism from others demanding a crack down on hydraulic fracturing.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said the president “underscored the urgency” of the problem while reaffirming his commitment to act on climate change for the future of the nation’s children.

“To meet the greatest challenge of our generation, we can and must end our dependence not just on foreign oil, but all fossil fuels. We can indeed set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline, said Brune, referring to the Republican push for authorization of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 19, 2015

Perry distributes $4 million BP gift four years later

Doubles Deepwater Horizon funds from fines for Gulf R&D

Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that he’s distributing $4 million given to Texas from BP shortly after the oil giant’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster to support the formation of two academic groups that will research sustainable offshore energy exploration, oil spill prevention and coastal environmental protection.

The money, which Perry had not distributed for more than four years, will essentially double the $4.1 million designated for the research and development projects announced by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Friday.  

The $4.1 million amounts to 2.5 percent of the federal RESTORE Trust Fund, containing administrative and civil penalties paid by those responsible for the catastrophic oil spill in which 11 people perished.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 15, 2015

Boone Pickens, Dan Patrick allied on natural gas vehicles

Billionaire oilman enlisted President Clinton, too

Billionaire oil and gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens isn’t shy when it comes to investing in or pushing for more natural gas vehicles nationwide, and now he’s enlisted a powerful new political ally in his cause.

Texas Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick on Thursday named Pickens to chair his new citizens energy advisory board, made up of seven other oil and gas luminaries from around the state.  

One, Tim Dunn of Midland, not only chairs energy concerns but also the boards of the conservative political and policy groups, Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which are critics of House Speaker Joe Straus. Dunn is also vice chair of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which cheers on causes Republicans tend to embrace.  

Last week, Patrick made clear that he’s already signed onto Pickens’ natural gas transportation vision to wean the nation from OPEC oil by spreading the use of natural gas vehicles and building a network of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas) fueling stations.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 14, 2015

WH plans to slash oil and gas industry’s methane emissions

Industry complains, but climate change activists say more needed

The White House on Wednesday unveiled the federal government’s first-ever attempt to slash the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, the third largest source of greenhouse gases, in its continuing fight against climate change.

The Obama Administration set a goal to reduce emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, by 45 percent by 2025. In doing so, it noted that the oil and gas industry has already reduced its emissions by 16 percent since 1990. But, without further action, it estimates the emissions would rise by 25 percent by 2025.

The industry was quick to complain, saying its technological advances have led to major cuts in methane emissions already. Environmentalists countered that those cuts are largely the result of federal and state policies rather than voluntary efforts on the part of the good actors in an industry made up of thousands of companies.

Although environmental groups say the methane policies are a step in the right direction, they noted that they only apply to new or modified oil and gas production sources, natural gas processing and transmission.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

January 14, 2015

Low gas prices come at high price for Texas economy

David Porter: EPA rules could stunt industry even more

Over the holiday break, families took to the roads to reunite with loved ones. Along the way, the excitement people felt upon seeing low gas prices – below $2 – was palpable, and in at least one way, measurable. Facebook, for the first time since its inception, featured timelines riddled with pictures of price signs.

Did Kris Kringle finally reward us for enduring a long, hard six-year slog?

On the contrary, fairy tales have nothing to do with the price drop. These low gas prices are a direct result of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which is playing a game of high-stakes chicken with the American oil and gas (O&G) industry and our national economy. Texas’ O&G industry has successfully increased overall production with the help of a streamlined regulatory environment. However, OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have flooded the market with crude in an effort to discourage successful American drilling – using artificially cheap fuel as their weapon.  

OPEC’s goal is to sacrifice profits today, in hopes of maintaining their dominant market share down the road. On December 21, 2014, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said OPEC plans to keep over-producing oil, even if prices fall to $20 a barrel. Keep in mind that today’s prices have dropped approximately 60% in just six months. OPEC will force low prices to exist until their competitors are out of business and then raise the price to whatever profit margin they desire, which will certainly be higher than a stable free market would otherwise have dictated.  

The full editorial from Railroad Commissioner David Porter can be found in our Opinion pages.

By David Porter