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July 23, 2014

Blue Alpha Energy was a Ponzi scam, investors learned

FW man pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud Wednesday

A Texan accused of running an oil and gas Ponzi scheme and fleeing to Oregon as it began to crater, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony count of wire fraud, according to U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.

Jeffrey Watts, a 41-year-old man from Fort Worth, faces up to 20 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution for the victims of his fraud, authorities said. He has been held in Eugene, Oregon since his arrest in early May of this year. His sentencing is set for Dec. 9.

Watts told investors he was the founder and principal of Blue Alpha Energy, which supposedly had invested in oil and gas wells in Texas that were owned and/or operated by Arrowhead Productions. The latter is a legitimate but unrelated company based in Fort Worth, according to documents filed in the case.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 23, 2014

Quote du jour: State shale regulators urged to collaborate

“It is most productive for all parties in a room to have direct conversations abut these important issues that we must get right. It is clear that we need to continue to work in a concerted effort to accomplish the major tasks at hand, so that this viable industry is not only sustained, but continues to flourish.” --- Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, speaking this week at the Aspen Institute’s Modern Shale Gas and Oil Production Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

By Polly Ross Hughes


July 23, 2014

GDF SUEZ joins collaborative innovation, financing network

Broadscale Group aims to speed clean energy ideas to market

GDF SUEZ announced this week that it has joined other major energy companies as a network member of the Broadscale Group, an investment firm that helps commercialize innovative technologies by aligning interests of major power players.

Other network members include Duke Energy, General Electric, Johnson Controls and National Grid. GDF SUEZ said its membership would give it access to investment and commercialization opportunities along with other growth-stage companies. The network is designed to overcome hurdles that have stood in the way of energy innovation.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 22, 2014

RRC quietly proposes overhaul of notorious T-4 pipeline form

New rule calls for more scrutiny of claims to common carrier status

A quiet overhaul of the Texas Railroad Commission’s notorious one-page, T-4 form, in which a pipeline could gain common carrier status by simply checking a box, is undergoing a public comment period until noon, Aug. 25.

The commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month on proposed new requirements that would hold pipeline operators to tougher standards in order for them to declare a pipeline is a common carrier.

The issue carries big consequences during the state’s oil and gas drilling boom as private landowners increasingly question whether pipeline operators have the power seize private land by waving the “common carrier” banner.

The Texas Supreme Court earlier shone a critical light on the T-4 form, which gave pipelines the power to gain private land for right-of-way easements simply by checking a box and declaring themselves common carriers. The longstanding practice has involved no public scrutiny of those claims, short of demanding a court review with an expensive lawsuit.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 22, 2014

Partners to finance, build 1,500 MW of power for ERCOT grid

Combined-cycle gas turbines promise efficient, cleaner power

Houston-based FGE Power LLC, an energy infrastructure development firm, and its subsidiary, FGE Texas LLC, announced a partnership Tuesday with Starwood Energy Group Global LLC to finance and build nearly 1,500 megawatts (MW) of power generation using low-emitting natural gas.

The project involves two phases to construct identical 747 MW combined-cycle gas turbines near the communities of Westbrook and Colorado City in Mitchell County, according to FGE.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 21, 2014

Oil and gas workers in high demand, but hiring managers challenged

Qualified candidates demanding more money, leaving positions unfilled

Half of energy companies say they’re hiring in the next six months, but it’s the job seekers holding the best cards when it comes to negotiating pay and benefits, according to a semi-annual hiring survey from Rigzone.

The online source that tracks talent recruitment trends in the oil and gas industry said Monday that companies seeking employees dipped slightly from the 53 percent that reported doing so in the first half.

However, it also found that hiring managers are finding their talent searches increasingly tougher as job seekers take advantage of a competitive market for their skills.

“Oil and gas professionals today recognize the energy job market is theirs for the taking,” Rigzone President Paul Caplan said in a statement announcing the survey results. “It’s up to companies to offer the right position for the right compensation package or risk losing candidates to firms and industries competing for the same in-demand talent.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 21, 2014

Major oil firms pool resources for joint subsea technology

FMC Technologies to build systems for deepwater production

Four major oil and gas companies – BP, ConocoPhillips, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Shell – have signed an agreement with FMC Technologies Inc. to jointly develop production systems for producing in deepwater reservoirs, FMC announced Monday.

The cooperative industry program aims to standardize subsea production equipment to deal with pressures of up to 20,000 psi (pounds per square inch) and temperatures reaching 350 degrees Fahrenheit at the mud line, FMC said.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 18, 2014

Oil employees reportedly aboard downed flight

ExxonMobil, Shell workers among 298 presumed dead

Citing multiple reports, the Houston Chronicle reports that employees of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil Corp. were among passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed yesterday in eastern Ukraine.

Shell confirmed to several news outlet that Shell employees were onboard the fight, although it has not yet said how many.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of our colleagues and friends, and we mourn their loss and the loss of the lives of everyone onboard flight MH17,” Shell said in a statement.

ExxonMobil has not confirmed that one of its employees was on the flight that was believed shot down by pro-Russian rebel forces.

The Malaysian Insider, however, reported that an internal communication sent to ExxonMobil employees said that one of its employees in Malaysia was on the flight.

“He was a dedicated and long-serving employee with 29 years of service with ExxonMobil,” the Insider quoted from the memo.

By Polly Ross Hughes


July 18, 2014

Oil employees reportedly aboard downed flight

ExxonMobil, Shell workers among 298 presumed dead

Citing multiple reports, the Houston Chronicle reports that employees of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil Corp. were among passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed yesterday in eastern Ukraine.

Shell confirmed to several news outlet that Shell employees were onboard the fight, although it has not yet said how many.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of our colleagues and friends, and we mourn their loss and the loss of the lives of everyone onboard flight MH17,” Shell said in a statement.

ExxonMobil has not confirmed that one of its employees was on the flight that was believed shot down by pro-Russian rebel forces.

The Malaysian Insider, however, reported that an internal communication sent to ExxonMobil employees said that one of its employees in Malaysia was on the flight.

“He was a dedicated and long-serving employee with 29 years of service with ExxonMobil,” the Insider quoted from the memo.

By Polly Ross Hughes


July 16, 2014

Smart meters hold untapped savings, more efficient electric use

Consumer education, supports needed in Texas, report finds

Texans are only starting to tap intelligence from smart meters to use electricity more efficiently through time-of-use discounts or demand response deals, a new study finds.

Also, the state won’t start allowing until later this year for customers to voluntarily grant third-party access to use their data in ways that would reduce their electricity spending, the report found.

“An Update on Smart Energy in Texas,” the report released Wednesday by SPEER (South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource), notes that seven million smart meters are in use in Texas, but also points out that ongoing consumer education for greater smart meter benefits is nonexistent and limited incentives exist to encourage smarter energy use.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 16, 2014

Denton fracking ban initiative moves to November ballot box

City council rejects ban after hours of passionate testimony

After eight hours of impassioned public testimony, the Denton City Council voted 5-2 early Wednesday morning against a citizen petition banning fracking within city limits, passing the issue directly to voters on the November ballot.

The marathon meeting drew state politicians; former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips, now representing the oil industry; oil industry regulators and executives; and a steady stream of ordinary Denton residents who vowed they are not about to back down from their fight against fracking.

Phillips warned that, should the citizens prevail in November, they’d face certain lawsuits from members of the Texas Oil & Gas Association. Both sides repeatedly declared that the eyes of the nation and even the world were on Denton during the proceedings, noting that the ban would be the first in a state with a rich tradition in oil and gas drilling.

But as 500 people showed up at Denton City Hall, fracking opponents said they proposed the ban only as a last resort and only when natural gas operators proved recalcitrant to working out reasonable solutions for residents living in the shadow of drilling rigs.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 15, 2014

World’s largest, $1 billion carbon capture project breaks ground in Texas

NRG, JX Nippon to capture CO2 and give new life to aging oil field

The world’s largest carbon capture project began construction near Houston, officials announced Tuesday, to cut greenhouse emissions at a coal-fired power plant and then use captured CO2 to enhance oil recovery from an aging field.

The $1 billion Petra Carbon Capture Nova Project, a joint venture by NRG Energy Inc. and JX Nippon Oil Exploration Corp., will capture an estimated 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually at the W.A. Parish power plant. The plant is located in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston.

The project will be the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture and sequestration facility connected to an existing power plant. The CO2, once injected into a depleted oil field 80 miles away, will then be safely stored underground, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

With enhanced recovery techniques, the West Ranch oil field is expected to boost production from 500 barrels of oil per day to 15,000 barrels per day, according to NRG Energy. Enhanced recovery methods using CO2 has also boosted recoverable oil in the field to 60 million barrels.

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz seized on the project announcement as an example that the Obama Administration isn’t totally killing the coal industry, as critics have charged.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 15, 2014

Shell discovers 100 million barrels of oil in Gulf of Mexico

Its major Norphlet play discoveries now exceed 700 million barrels

Shell has discovered about 100 million barrels of oil in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, its third major discovery in the Norphlet play, the company announced Tuesday.

The success of its Rydberg exploration well after more than 10 years of exploring the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the company noted, shows it continues leading in the Jurassic-period geological formation.

“The Rydberg discovery builds upon our leadership position in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and its proximity to our other discoveries in the area make Rydberg particularly exciting. These successes represent the emergence of another hub for Shell’s deep-water activities that should generate shareholder value,” said Shell Upstream Americas Director Marvin Odum in a statement announcing the discovery.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 14, 2014

Report: Clean Power Plan’s benefits to trump short-term costs

Analysis Group’s optimism based on states’ past success

States with experience in regulating carbon pollution have seen net increases in jobs and economic output, according to a report released Monday that predicts similar outcomes under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The report, “EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs & Increasing Benefits to Consumers,” argues that consumers will see both financial and environmental benefits under the plan, expected to go into effect next summer.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 14, 2014

At EPA, blame rolls downhill, workers say

Unionized workers pen critical letter to Gina McCarthy

The rank-and-file at the Environmental Protection Agency is ticked off at EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for telling Congress she’d welcome changes in civil service regulations that protect workers.

In a testy July 14 letter to McCarthy, the workers strike back by saying problems at the agency stem from “management’s failure to manage” rather than burdensome procedures that require the agency to have cause for firing employees and a chance for accused workers to give their side of the story.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 14, 2014

Well counts surge ahead in Permian Basin, rise less in Eagle Ford

Barnett Shale wells showed greatest second quarter drop

Well counts fell more than a third year-to-year in North Texas’ Barnett Shale, but they surged ahead in the Permian Basin and continued growing in the South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, according to second quarter domestic well counts from Baker Hughes Inc.

Barnett Shale activity continues declining. The number of wells dropped nearly 18 percent from 318 in the first quarter of this year to 261 in the second quarter. The second quarter drop year-to-year was sharper, with well counts falling 35.2 percent (from 403 in the first quarter of 2013 wells last year to 261).

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 11, 2014

RRC chief urges Denton city leaders to reject fracking ban

Citizen group, with 2,000 signatures on anti-fracking petition, presses on

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman has entered the fray between citizens of the City of Denton and their elected representatives over a proposed fracking ban within city limits.

Smitherman, who chairs the state oil-and-gas regulatory agency, sent a letter dated July 10 that asked Denton’s mayor and city council members to reject a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within city limits.

Smitherman’s letter responds to a citizen petition asking the city to ban fracking, an issue slated for a public hearing Tuesday evening, July 15. The Denton Drilling Awareness Group (Denton DAG), a local citizens group pushing the ban, has said it could be the first anti-fracking ban of its kind nationally. The group has collected 2,000 signatures from Denton voters.

“A ban on hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas wells within the city limits of Denton is essentially a ban on drilling,” Smitherman wrote. “Those advocating for a ban on hydraulic fracturing know what they are really calling for is a ban on drilling. And, they are calling for a ban on oil and gas drilling, one of the key pillars of our Texas economy, without citing any concrete examples of hydraulic fracturing negatively impacting public health.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 10, 2014

UT System wants $2.7 billion for engineering and science programs

As the fracking boom continues, UT sees demand skyrocket for engineering degrees

Expansion of science and engineering programs across the university system still tops the University of Texas’ wish list for the upcoming legislative session next spring and now we’ve learned fulfilling those wishes could cost a combined $2.7 billion.

Tuition revenue bonds were one item that didn’t make it out of either the regular session or special sessions last year. In a session in which the oil-and-gas industry got its way on new road spending, the higher education community couldn’t make a convincing case to expand engineering programs.

Nowhere did the need seem greater than on the UT-Permian Basin campus, where hydraulic fracking technology has rejuvenated the energy industry. Locals say the economy is the hottest it’s been in decades. Wages there are some of the highest in America. As proof, Schlumberger opened new headquarters in Odessa this week, joining rivals Weatherford International and Halliburton.

UT Permian Basin added engineering degrees in mechanical and petroleum engineering five years ago. At a presentation Thursday morning before two subcommittees of the board of regents, President David Watts expressed confidence that enrollment could be quadrupled with the addition of a new $60 million engineering building.

“In less than five years, engineering has become our most popular major, Watts said. “It’s really quite extraordinary.”

The rest of the story is available on The Quorum Report.

By Kimberly Reeves


July 10, 2014

Corpus Christi’s wind power port among nation’s most innovative

Recyclebank lists ‘cutting-edge’ wind project as No. 2 of nation’s best

A “cutting-edge” wind project in Corpus Christi has been named one of the 10 most inspiring U.S. programs for urban sustainability by Recyclebank of New York City, a company that offers discounts and other rewards to encourage environmentally friendly practices.

The company, which works with more than 300 municipalities across the United States to educate and reward individuals for making sustainable choices, keeps track of sustainable programs nationwide.

“This list, developed by the company’s community specialists and environmental researchers, highlights 10 of the most inspiring and/or effective programs and the cities they call home,” the company said as it released the list this week.

Chicago placed No. 1 on the list for its Green Permit Program, which catapulted Chicago to the top of the list or the most LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) projects in the U.S. with 295.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 9, 2014

New oil and gas company to be large Barnett Shale operator

FW-based Trinity River Energy to also hold liquids-rich properties

The merger of certain assets belonging to two private, global equity firms will create a new oil and gas company in Fort Worth called Trinity River Energy LLC, one of the largest operators in the Barnett Shale, the equity firms announced Wednesday.

Along with 258 million cubic feet equivalent of natural gas gross production the in the Barnett, Trinity will also hold liquid-rich properties in the Permian Basin, East Texas, South Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


July 9, 2014

Mighty Permian Basin takes oil lead from offshore Gulf Coast

Horizontal drilling, fracking push region to nation’s most prolific

Permian Basin crude oil production in Texas and New Mexico is now the nation’s most prolific producing area, exceeding federal offshore production from the Gulf of Mexico since March 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

Six formations – the Sprayberry, Wolfcamp, Bone Spring, Glorieta and Yeso, and Delaware – provided most of the basin’s 60 percent oil production surge since 2007.

Since a low point of 850,000 barrels of oil per day in 2007, the Permian Basin’s oil output soared to 1.35 million bb/d in 2013.

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By Polly Ross Hughes