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December 18, 2014

Support for fracking erodes, national survey shows

Americans prioritize alternative vs. fossil fuels, 2-1

More than half of Americans know that domestic energy production has increased in recent years, but twice as many (60 percent to 30 percent) place priority on developing alternative energy sources than expanding fossil fuels extraction, new research shows.

Despite the historic surge in U.S. oil and gas production in recent years, attitudes about setting priorities on developing alternative energy sources have changed only modestly, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.  

Awareness of the domestic oil and gas production boom is now 54 percent versus 48 percent in September 2013. But, an overwhelming 89 percent of Americans said they knew that gasoline prices had fallen at the pump in the past month, Pew’s polling shows.

Pew’s survey of 1,507 adults, conducted Dec. 3-7, also found that 81 percent favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars and trucks. That’s an eight-point gain in those supporting better fuel efficiency since September 2013.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 18, 2014

Outgoing TXOGA leader joins young Austin law firm

Looney led Texas oil, gas association for 26 years

Rob Looney, longtime president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, is taking his energy policy expertise to the Austin-based law firm of Beatty Bangle Strama PC, the firm announced Thursday.

“For 26 years, Rob guided the Texas oil and gas industry as it led and revolutionized production throughout the world,” Matt Beatty, managing shareholder at the firm said in a statement. “You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the industry that can match his experience and leadership. We look forward to adding that value as a resource for clients at BBS.”

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December 17, 2014

Pipelines, eminent domain and lowball offers

Conservative group thinks landowners need more protection

A conservative public policy group in Austin is siding with a family-owned land partnership in the Eagle Ford Shale that’s asking the Texas Supreme Court to step into its eminent domain fight with a pipeline company.

At issue in Eagle Ford Land Partners v. Peregrine Pipeline Co. LP is whether the for-profit pipeline company should be required to post a bond or deposit with a trial court while it appeals a jury award for the landowners of more than $1.6 million.

Failure to compel such a requirement, could set off a wave of “catch-me-if-you-can” behavior by pipelines that forces landowners to pay attorneys fees, court costs and even collection agencies without assurance that pipelines will ever compensate them for land takings, the land partnership’s attorneys argued.

Peregrine’s attorneys replied that posting such a bond or deposit is voluntary and scoffed at the notion that pipelines would abuse rights of eminent domain if the high court decides not to compel a bond or deposit when a jury award is on appeal.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 16, 2014

ERCOT: Environmental rules to retire lots of Texas coal power

Critics say study overlooks promise of demand response, efficiencies

Even before considering President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to address climate change, upcoming environmental regulations could put 3,000 to 8,500 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired capacity at risk of retirement, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas estimates.

In a Dec. 16 report, “Impacts of Environmental Regulations in the ERCOT Region,” the grid operator for 90 percent of Texas’ electric load said costs for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Regional Haze program pose the primary risk for coal plant retirements (setting aside the Clean Power Plan).

ERCOT’s analysis also suggests possible short-term, system-wide impacts from the Cross State Air Pollution Rule. While other pending regulations are not expected to affect the grid system wide, they could affect the economics of a small number of units.

The report, an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of seven different environmental regulations aimed at curbing pollutants from coal and natural gas generation, follows ERCOT’s earlier, stand-alone analysis of the Clean Power Plan’s possible impact on Texas electric costs and reliability.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 15, 2014

A&M’s Bush School study: Tax breaks for cutting freshwater fracking

Students find fracking the third-largest water user in Eagle Ford

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) isn’t the only culprit in overuse of Texas water resources, but it does add stress as a growing population continues to demand more water, according to a student study at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.

 Fracking has resulted in important economic and environmental benefits to the United States, researchers found, but the technology raises long-term water issues that must be addressed. With an exponential growth in fracking in South Texas’ huge and prolific Eagle Ford Shale, that’s especially true in the Lone Star State.

Key points in the work include:

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 15, 2014

Oil, gas production job turnovers continue to rise

Will labor confidence continue amid price plunge?

Falling oil prices notwithstanding, voluntary turnover rates in the oil and gas production sector could set a record this year, according to Rigzone.

From January through October 2014, some 174,000 professionals chose to leave their jobs, according to the official government count. No other year in the past decade has seen so many volunteer quits in the same 10-month period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics mining and logging sector (which Rigzone and others use as the proxy for energy).  

By comparison, the full, breakout year of 2012 included 194,000 mining and logging professionals deciding to leave their companies.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 12, 2014

Austin adopts generation plan setting big renewable goals

Mayor Lee Leffingwell votes no, citing cost implications

Austin Energy plans to phase out two fossil fuel generating plants while more than quadrupling the municipal utility’s solar generation goals to 950 megawatts (MW) under an ambitious plan approved by Austin City Council, 6-1, last night.

Under the plan, the utility will phase out its Decker natural gas plant and Fayette coal plants while speeding up its renewable energy generation goals by 2025 from 35 percent now to 55 percent. That goal exceeds the highest state goal, Hawaii’s, which is 40 percent for the same year.

The adopted 2025 Austin Resource Generation Plan powers down Austin Energy’s most polluting fossil fuel plants while setting historic commitments to solar and other renewable energy. It also strengthens commitments to demand response (paying consumers for cutting peak demand energy use) and energy efficiency while starting energy storage investments.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 12, 2014

Rail capacity tight with growing U.S. energy economy

Rules aimed at natural gas emissions to squeeze rails more

WASHINGTON DC - The rise of America’s new energy economy has put pressure on the country’s existing freight rail capacity, a deficit that will only increase with new environmental regulations to reduce natural gas flares.

The Surface Transportation Board and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) are both federal agencies with fewer than 200 employees, but the actions of both are critical to the burgeoning energy industry. The Friday morning appearance of both agency heads, Daniel Elliott and Timothy Butters respectively, at the National Conference of State Legislatures 2014 Forum, was a testament to the growing concern of states around safety regulations.

Recent accidents to the north, including the Quebec oil train inferno that killed 47 last year, has put safety on the map for multiple states along crude oil routes. Lawmakers from South Dakota, California and Wyoming all took to the microphone at the session to talk about the intersection between federal regulation and local lawmaking around freight rail safety.  

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By Kimberly Reeves

December 10, 2014

RRC sides with big gas utility, upsetting cities

Keffer predicts Legislature will fight back for cities

Leaders of several Texas cities are upset at the Texas Railroad Commission for giving CenterPoint Energy rule changes they say will make it easier for natural gas utilities to hike rates for Texas consumers.

The rule changes, which the commission unanimously adopted on Tuesday, will tilt the advantage in future rate cases to gas utilities, the municipal leaders argued, amounting to controversial policy changes the Texas Legislature has consistently rejected.

Last session, for instance, two bills died in the House State Affairs Committee that would have achieved similar results by limiting municipal participation in challenging proposed rate hikes.

“In my view, the rules directly affected an issue, a very controversial issue, we dealt with last session regarding the commission’s and the cities’ respective jurisdiction,” House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, told the state’s three elected Railroad Commissioners. “I still continue to have phone calls from my cities (concerning) the effect these rules will have on a regulatory framework carefully constructed by the Legislature that has worked well for a very long time.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 9, 2014

Quote du jour:

Should Railroad Commission do more urban drilling inspections?

“In current times, we are looking at a state in which drilling does not necessarily occur in less populated, rural areas, as it once did years ago. Because of both production and population growth across this state, our communities are more commonly touched by the development of oil and gas. With that growth comes the commission’s critical responsibility to not only re-evaluate our processes, but to educate Texans about our everyday duties as their regulator, and to assure them that their communities are in fact safe. We have heard the concerns expressed by those living in urban areas where drilling is occurring. As the industry evolves, the commission will continue to provide all Texans the oversight necessary to maintain a safe, clean environment in which to live and raise their families.”

--- Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick, directing RRC Executive Director Milton Rister to explore potential needs for heightened inspections in highly populated, urban areas in Texas. Her comments followed complaints by proponents in Denton who successfully campaigned for a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city limits that the Railroad Commission and the industry itself had let the residents of Denton down.

By Polly Ross Hughes

December 9, 2014

Quote du jour 2:

Three guesses: Which Texas Railroad Commissioner resembles Liz?

“Last night I watched for about the, I don’t know, 100th time my favorite movie, which is Giant. It’s of course about the legendary oilman Glenn McCarthy. It stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. I was thinking the chairwoman could be Elizabeth Taylor. But, David, I don’t think either one of us could play Rock Hudson.”

--- Outgoing Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman while saying his goodbyes at his last Texas Railroad Commission meeting on Tuesday, comparing Christi Craddick to Liz Taylor but suggesting he and Commissioner David Porter, might not have starring role quality.

By Polly Ross Hughes

December 9, 2014

Barton joins call for lifting crude oil export ban

Says U.S. should embrace free energy trade, open markets

U.S. oil companies could export crude for the first time in 40 years under legislation filed Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) who noted that a surge in production from shale reservoirs that has made the United States the world’s largest oil producer.

Barton joined Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the original sponsor of HR 5814, hoping the topic will be discussed Thursday at the House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing entitled, “The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975: Are We Positioning America for Success in an Era of Energy Abundance?”

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By Polly Ross Hughes

December 9, 2014

Entergy Texas to buy 495-MW of natural gas generation

Part of larger purchase of Union Power Station in Arkansas

Entergy Texas Inc., which serves 27 East Texas counties outside the state’s main power grid, announced its agreement Tuesday to buy a combined cycle natural gas unit at the Union Power Station in Arkansas.

The station, near the town of El Dorado, is a 1,980-megawatt (MW) facility with four efficient, combined-cycle natural gas-fired generating units, each rated at 495 MW. Under the agreement, Entergy Texas and Entergy Arkansas Inc. are each buying one unit, while Entergy Gulf States Louisiana LLC has agreed to purchase two.

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By Polly Ross Hughes