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November 26, 2014

EPA proposes tougher smog standards day before Thanksgiving

Environmentalists thankful, but not TCEQ, oil and gas producers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially unveiled proposed new smog standards today, strengthening air quality standards for ground-level ozone and raising concern among Texas regulators and the oil and gas industry.

The EPA, citing “extensive recent scientific evidence,” proposes to lower the standard to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect health and the environment. It also seeks comments on changing the level to as low as 60 ppb.

Should tougher ozone standards become final, San Antonio would fall out of compliance because of its proximity to emissions from intense shale oil and gas production in the Eagle Ford Shale, environmentalists say.  

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review the standards every five years by consulting a panel of independent experts. The EPA last updated the standards, setting them at 75 ppb, in 2008.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 25, 2014

Freeport LNG lines up $11 billion in capital

Construction begins on big Texas LNG export project

Freeport LNG Expansion announced Tuesday that two of its subsidiaries had closed on commitments for $11 billion in debt and equity financing related to its natural gas liquefaction and LNG loading facility on Quintana Island near Freeport.  

“We are excited to bring together a diverse group of the world’s most sophisticated investors, lenders, LNG industry participants and governmental institutions to support the advancement of the Freeport LNG liquefaction project and look forward to completing a successful construction of the initial two trains and beginning commercial exports in 2018,” Freeport LNG Chief Executive Officer Michael S. Smith said in a statement.

“The project will drive substantial economic growth in Texas and across the United States, requiring a peak construction workforce of over 4,000 workers and 300 new full-time workers at the facility once in operation,” Smith added. “In addition an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 permanent new jobs will be generated upstream of the project to support the increased natural gas exploration, production and infrastructure development required to meet the project’s supply demands.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 24, 2014

EPA rejects state’s smog reduction plans, proposes federal cure

At stake: Health for North Texans, Big Bend visibility

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rejected a state plan to combat regional haze, proposing Monday new federal rules to combat public health issues in North and Northeast Texas and to increase visibility in Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

EPA issued its proposal after determining that the state plan proposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) would have obscured views at Big Bend until 2155 and didn’t “adequately address” certain legal requirements, according to Luke Metzger, director at Environment Texas.

The TCEQ, however, said EPA’s proposal would result in a “negligible increase in visibility” at beloved parks and wildlife areas at a big cost. The federal plan, TCEQ said in a statement, would target 14 Texas coal-fired power plant units at a cost of more than $2 billion.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 24, 2014

International Quote du Jour: Addressing World Energy ‘Trilemma’

“Energy is fundamental to human society, social development and economic growth.  . . .  However, an ‘energy gap’ remains, with many people lacking access to energy and a deficit between current energy use and what is sustainable in terms of energy security, affordability or environmental impact.”

--- From a World Energy Council report released Monday describing how to get real internationally about the “World Energy Trilemma,” of energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. The report can be downloaded here.

By Polly Ross Hughes


November 21, 2014

On renewable energy politics in oil-rich Texas

Wind Coalition’s Jeff Clark clears a path

Wind and solar energy proponents polished their sales pitches this week as a Dec. 1 deadline neared for public comments on the EPA’s proposed Clean Energy Plan to battle climate change by cutting carbon emissions.

For Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, that meant fielding a burning question about how wind energy competes in a state so enriched by the oil and gas industry. Indeed, people in the rest of the nation are often surprised to learn that Texas leads, by far, in wind energy, too.

It’s no secret that, even though wind energy contributes 10 percent of the power on the grid run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), it has nowhere near the clout of the state’s famed oil and gas industry.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 20, 2014

Environmentalists: Set 20 percent solar electric goal for 2025

Call for lawmakers to adopt sun-friendly energy policy

An environmental group urged Texas state government on Thursday to adopt policies to gain 20 percent of electric generation from solar power by 2025, making sun power key to complying or exceeding the EPA’s targeted cuts in carbon emissions.

In a report called, “Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in Texas,” Environment Texas Research & Policy Center also called for state officials to:

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 19, 2014

Study: Clean Power Plan saves lots of Texas water

Power related water consumption could plunge 21%

Texas could slash power-related water consumption 21 percent under the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan, according to a second study this week focusing on the plan’s implications for Texas.

Without the plan’s requirement that Texas shift coal-fired power production to renewable and natural gas-fueled generation, that water savings looks more like five percent by 2021, it says. Natural gas-fired generation uses about half as much water as coal, while wind, solar and energy efficiency use little to none.

The report, “The Impacts of EPA’s Clean Power Plan on Electricity Generation and Water Use in Texas,” also shows that Texas could largely meet its 38 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2030 by continuing what it’s already doing, said the report’s author Paul Faeth, director of CNA Corp.’s Energy, Water and Climate Division.

“Twelve percent is where Texas has to go beyond what it would do anyway,” Faeth told Texas Energy Report. “Texas is already moving in the direction the Clean Power Plan calls for. We think, ultimately, modest adjustments will be needed.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 18, 2014

Texas may weather oil price collapse better this time

More diverse economy lessens risk, but sudden jolts could hurt

Memories of economic calamity in Texas following the 1980s oil price collapse still haunt the halls of Houston executive suites and the Texas Capitol, but a new report says the state’s more diversified economy now is more resilient to cope with oil price swings.  

So says BBVA Compass, which notes that in July 2014, Texas was the sixth largest oil producer in the world.  

“Today there are striking differences with the 1980s – when Texas suffered one of the worst recessions ever – which suggest that the downside risks are relatively contained,” wrote BBVA Compass economist Boyd Nash-Stacey. “For example, greater economic diversification , increased trade openness, regional and national bank financing and absence of a real estate bubble, to name a few.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 18, 2014

Quote du jour: On fracking’s new beneficiary in Middle East

“Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies are literally changing the global energy landscape. You are experiencing that yourself off the cost of Israel, with the Leviathan Field, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Your citizens, and the companies which operate in Israel, will be much better off for it.”

--- Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman in a video address to Israel’s 1st International Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition, referring to the country’s large domestic supply of natural gas.

By Polly Ross Hughes


November 18, 2014

Climate change price tag: Rolling blackouts, 20% higher electric bills

ERCOT paints bleak picture of cleaner power plan’s cost

Texans could see more rolling blackouts and 20 percent higher electric bills by 2020 under a federal plan to cut climate changing carbon emissions, according to operators of the state’s main electric grid.

That bleak outlook for Texas under EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan is contained in an 18-page analysis released Monday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the grid serving 90 percent of the state’s electric load.

The grid’s reliability could be jeopardized by the loss of nearly half of the system’s existing coal-fired electric generating capacity, with up to 9,000 megawatts (MW) likely to be retired or put into mothball status by 2020 or 2022, explained ERCOT’s Warren Lasher, director of system planning.

“Given the ERCOT region’s market design and existing transmission infrastructure, the timing and scale of the expected changes needed to reach the CO2 emission goals could have a harmful impact on reliability,” the analysis predicts.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 17, 2014

Geologist Becky Berger interested in possible House race

Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski also eyeing District 13 spot

Geologist and former Republican Railroad Commission candidate Becky Berger said Monday she’ll run for Texas House District 13 if state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, wins a special election for the Texas Senate.

Berger, who is from Schulenberg, is the first potential candidate to announce interest in the job.  Several hours after her announcement Monday, Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski said she also intended to run if a special election is held to replace Kolkhorst.  

Berger’s potential House bid is made possible by Kolkhorst running for Senate District 18 in a special Dec. 6 election to replace Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy. Texas voters elected Hegar to be the next Texas Comptroller earlier this month.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 14, 2014

Freeport LNG gets final export approval

‘Another positive step toward strengthening America’s energy security’

The Department of Energy (DOE) on Friday gave Freeport LNG terminal on Quintana Island final authorization to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that do not have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

“The development of U.S. natural gas resources is having a transformative impact on the U.S. energy landscape, helping to improve our energy security while spurring economic development and job creation around the country,” DOE said in announcing final export approvals for Freeport LNG Expansion L.P. and FLNG Liquefaction LLC.

“This increase in domestic natural gas production is expected to continue, with the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasting a record production rate of 75.05 Bcf/d in 2014,” the DOE announcement continued.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 14, 2014

Midlothian liquefaction plant breaks ground next Thursday

Applied LNG plans to market to sectors now using diesel

Applied LNG announced Friday that it plans to break ground next week on a 31-acre liquefied natural gas production facility in Midlothian’s Railport Business Park.

The Dallas-area facility is the first in Texas for the Westlake Village, California-based company, the second largest producer and distributor of liquefied natural gas in the U.S.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 14, 2014

Keystone XL pipeline advances, 252-161, in House

Bill set for Tuesday Senate debate, possible veto

A bill directing the federal government to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline passed the U.S. House Friday 252 to 161.  

A vote is scheduled Tuesday in the Senate amid rumblings that President Barack Obama is poised to veto it, assuming the bill can pass in the upper chamber where Democrats still have a majority.  

The pipeline, set to carry petroleum from Canadian tar sands, needs approval from the Department of State because it crosses the international border between Canada and the United States. The issue is considered key in Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s Dec. 6 runoff against Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.

The New York Times report is here.

By Polly Ross Hughes


November 12, 2014

RRC names Rich Parsons communications director

Former TV reporter turned political spokesman starts today

The latest communications member to leave the office of departing Gov. Rick Perry is Rich Parsons who started a new job as communications director today for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Parsons, once a Texas Capitol reporter at Austin’s KXAN television station, has spent the past 10 years as a spokesman for various top state leaders. Before joining Perry’s office as deputy director of communications director in March 2003, he served as communications director for the Texas Secretary of State; vice president of public affairs at Hahn Public Communications and press secretary and senior advisor for outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

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By Polly Ross Hughes